daniel andrews in front of TV screen showing melbourne postcodes
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (Image: AAP/James Ross)

Last week former Victorian cabinet member and accused branch stacker Adem Somyurek claimed that Daniel Andrews wanted to be the Jacinda Ardern of Australia. He was wrong. Andrews’ roadmap is far stricter than anything seen in New Zealand. Or anywhere in the world for that matter.

It appears that Victoria’s stage four restrictions have been little more than a science experiment for a premier who has confused politics and science horribly, while completely ignoring livelihoods — as well as the views of most leading epidemiologists, mental health experts and even the World Health Organization.

Ever the skilled operator, Andrews has clearly picked up the growing tension in recent days, and after two months is preparing to junk the next step of his strict roadmap and quietly allow Victoria to move to the next “stage” on Sunday, which is likely to allow some outdoor activities as well as slightly larger family gatherings.

But while most of Victoria focusses on the next stage of the state’s slow grind towards normality, few have bothered to look to the final steps of Andrews’ inept roadmap, and how willing he has been to sacrifice Victorian small businesses to cling to his own job.

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Andrews is acutely aware that a third wave, after the destruction caused by Victoria’s six-month lockdown, would see him follow his department head and health minister out the door.

Consider this: restaurants and pubs aren’t allowed any indoor dining until Victoria’s “last step” is reached. Most restaurants aren’t able to operate profitably (many aren’t able to open at all) unless they can serve customers indoors. To get to that step, Victoria needs to record zero cases for 14 days.

That’s not zero mystery or “community transmission” cases — that’s no cases at all, included cases linked to existing known clusters.

Victoria was able to virtually eliminate the virus in May and June while allowing limited indoor dining, before the second wave was caused by Andrews’ hotel quarantine disaster. NSW hasn’t come close to meeting this threshold.

Interestingly, while non-unionised small businesses have been crippled, parts of the heavily-unionised construction sector have been able to operate throughout the lockdown period. Victoria’s Metro Tunnel project operated largely without break during the pandemic despite workers testing positive, while residential construction, with workers moving between sites, was able to continue mostly unabated.

But while even high-risk meatworks stayed almost fully operational, many businesses can’t open at all, potentially until well into 2021 when “COVID normal” is reached (the stage after the “last stage”).

Accommodation services can’t open, outdoor entertainment like zoos and amusement parks largely can’t open, museums are heavily restricted and office workers must work from home. In fact, offices can’t reopen even with COVID-safe plans until there are no new cases for 28 days. A feat which few regions in the world have achieved.

Leaders have a difficult balancing act between the public health of the relatively small number of people very susceptible to the virus (those aged over 70 with pre-existing conditions) and everyone else.

But instead of trying to manage health and livelihoods, Andrews sticks to an unachievable roadmap and continues to try to scare Victorians into submission — once again warning Victoria of the risks of hospitals “being overrun” if the lockdown is eased.

Andrews’ hyperbolic commentary, coupled with an unachievable roadmap, has been far more of a failure than even the quarantine disaster.

The data is crystal clear (if anyone bothered to look): Andrews’ strict stage four measures were not needed in the first place.

Victoria completely moved from stage three to stage four restrictions on August 6 (some measures, likely the curfew which experts later conceded had no health benefits, were enacted earlier on August 2). Andrews and his chief medical officer Brett Sutton repeatedly stated that it takes around 14 days for a change in restrictions to have an effect.

Based on Andrew and Sutton’s own claims, for stage four to have been critical, cases would have reached their zenith just after August 20 and hospitalisations peaked around 10 days after that.

However, COVID-related ICU admissions peaked at 48 people on August 10, which shows the burden on hospitals was easing before the strict restrictions could have an effect. Similarly, Victorian daily infections peaked on August 5, before stage four restrictions were even fully enacted.

Meanwhile, Victoria has surge capacity of more than of 1440 ICU beds, although Crikey has been told that is a very conservative estimate — even accounting for non-COVID patients, the deadly second wave didn’t even fill a third of Victoria’s surge capacity.

Back in July, modelling from the pro-lockdown Grattan Institute noted that “it would take between 4000 and 7700 daily new infections over 10 days for this capacity to be reached”. Victoria’s rolling seven day average peaked at 496 daily cases in early August (before stage four).

Andrews’ claim that Victoria’s health system was at risk were either the words of a liar or someone utterly incompetent.

The Victorian government’s restrictions are destroying lives and businesses. Every day they continue represents prolonged governmental failure.

Adam Schwab is a commentator, business director, and the co-founder of LuxuryEscapes.com. He is also the author of Pigs at the Trough: Lessons from Australia’s Decade of Corporate Greed.