(Image: Gorkie/Private Media)

Another lockdown, from another hotel quarantine failure. Melburnians must endure a week of restrictions because of a failure of quarantine in South Australia.

And James Merlino, the apparently long-term acting premier of Victoria, is right to blame the federal government for its failures on vaccination and quarantine. But not all the blame lies with Scott Morrison.

Victorians have to endure the consequences of Morrison’s bungled vaccination rollout, true. The government forecast back in March — based on its lower, revised timetable reflecting supply problems — that it would have delivered over 11 million doses by now. We’re currently at around 4 million, or barely a third of that — a level we were supposed to reach in early April.

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Likewise, the government’s refusal to plan for any additional quarantine capacity beyond a modest expansion of the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory, preferring to rely on manifestly inadequate hotel quarantine. This, despite being warned in its own review last year that “the hotel quarantine system is vulnerable to breaches and these are hard to eliminate”.

That failure is increasingly looking profoundly negligent — not merely for the lockdowns necessitated by breaches of quarantine but for the Australians who remain stranded overseas and, in many case, in harm’s way as a result of limited quarantine capacity.

But that report by Coalition favourite Jane Halton was not merely available to the Morrison government but to states and territory governments as well, as were the lessons of Victoria’s disastrous breaches last year, which cost hundreds of lives — mainly of Victorian seniors — and billions of dollars.

It’s not merely the Morrison government that’s been remiss in failing to use Australia’s success to establish a secure, high-traffic quarantine system, it’s the state governments as well. Nothing has stopped them from building quarantine facilities within which to house incoming people — particularly if they’re keen to enable the return of economically important foreign students and tourists.

It’s true that it would have need coordination among state governments, to prevent exactly what’s happened in Victoria — a failure in another state’s quarantine has led to an outbreak in Melbourne. But that’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

But then, apparently, there’s the cost.

When the NSW government floated the idea of expanding quarantine capacity for foreign students in April, it specified it had to be existing purpose-built student accommodation that would be used to quarantine arrivals. The risks of repeating the errors of hotel quarantine were obvious.

The Victorian version floated using another hotel — albeit with “ventilation assessment and remediation works if required”.

That is, state governments preferred to try to get an existing, flawed model to work better, despite extensive evidence that it would keep failing, rather than invest in a more robust solution. And, to repeat, exactly the same thing could be said about Scott Morrison. There’s plenty of blame to go around here.

One area where Scott Morrison owns the problem lock, state and barrel is residential aged and disability care. Of the three parts of the vaccine rollout, the states control the increasingly important vaccination hubs for, initially, frontline health workers and now, pretty much anyone. GPs control the second part, using vaccines provided (or, in some cases, not provided) by the federal government. The federal Department of Health controls the third part, the rollout to residential aged care and disability care facilities, using outsourced teams of private contractors.

We’ve covered this debacle previously, but it’s getting worse. And it bears repeating, this is an utter disgrace and seems to reflect a contempt — conscious or unconscious, whatever you like — for Australians with disabilities in the minds of Canberra bureaucrats and the politicians who control them.

There are around 320,000 aged and disability care staff, and 190,000 residents in those sectors. Those 510,000 people were supposed to be fully vaccinated by the end of March — despite attempted denials of clear commitments by the prime minister and minister for health in that regard by Health Department bureaucrats. As of yesterday, just under 340,000 vaccinations had been delivered in those sectors — the great majority in aged care facilities. The disability sector has basically been told by bureaucrats to go do it themselves.

Worse, the vaccination rate in those sectors has slowed dramatically this week. After signs that the acceleration of the rollout promised by bureaucrats was actually happening a couple of weeks ago, that momentum has vanished and, barring a massive surge in numbers yesterday and today, this week will be the poorest week in months.

Now aged and disability residents in Victoria who remain unvaccinated face the dire threat of being overtaken by the latest wave. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen. If it does, responsibility for that shameful outcome will belong to both state and federal politicians and their bureaucrats.

Where do you lay the blame for Victoria’s latest COVID lockdown? Let us know your thoughts by writing to letters@crikey.com.au. Please include your full name to be considered for publication in Crikey’s Your Say section.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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