End lockdown? Be careful what you wish forSeptember 11, 2021
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There would have been few Victorians who didn’t experience a pang of envy when NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that her state would be heading out of lockdown as soon as next month.
While we in Melbourne can look forward to only a slight loosening of restrictions – 10 kilometre travel radius, an extra hour of exercise – when 70 per cent of Victorians have had their first jab, up north the fully vaccinated will soon be enjoying such unimaginable freedoms as going to the pub, getting a haircut or catching a movie.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is betting the economy can recover while public health measures restrict the spread of the virus. Credit:Edwina Pickles
With the exception of some – fairly minimal – social distancing regulations and having to check in with their vaccination certificates, for them life will soon return to something approaching normal.
On Friday, we even learnt that Ms Berejiklian was dispensing with her daily press conference, no doubt an attempt to reduce the focus on daily numbers – not to mention her leadership – and to further normalise “living with COVID”.
The announcements from NSW put the focus back on Victoria. The game, as they say, has moved on.
Not only is Mr Andrews now under increasing pressure to produce our own road map, which is apparently waiting on more data from the Burnet Institute, it raises questions about the necessity of a suppression strategy doggedly focused on contact tracing, case numbers and exposure sites when NSW has now effectively gone all-in on vaccinations.
The government must now also contend with a revitalised opposition, with new leader Matthew Guy offering his own – albeit unqualified – health advice, such as calling for social interaction outdoors to keep families from being divided.
Whether the energised Mr Guy will develop a sophisticated alternative plan or will be content to craft zingers – he says we can’t “hide under the doona together” – remains to be seen, but he is certain to be more of an irritant to the Premier than the ineffectual Michael O’Brien he replaced.
And yet. Despite the clamouring to send the children back to school, to save the struggling small businesses, to throw open the pubs and golf courses and the multitude of other causes, we wonder how many Victorians truly wish it was Ms Berejiklian running this state and not Mr Andrews.
For Sydney is about to participate in an experiment apparently driven as much by business interests as health advice, and which will certainly cost lives.
Ms Berejiklian is gambling that the promise of “freedoms” will cause enough of a surge in the vaccination rate to avoid hospitals being overrun, that cases will peak soon and that the cases that do emerge as Sydneysiders freely mingle will be relatively mild.
Yet multiple health experts have expressed concern, with Grattan Institute health economist Stephen Duckett calling it “an extremely risky strategy”.
Ms Berejiklian is also apparently hoping that Sydneysiders will accept a two-tier society, where the fully vaccinated enjoy privileges, while those who choose to remain unvaccinated, are unable to be vaccinated, or can’t get vaccinated, are shut out, put at risk, and, one can bleakly imagine, eventually even blamed and shamed if they do contract the virus and die.
And that expected vaccination surge? Despite recent success the vaccination rate in NSW is actually now dropping. “Obviously supply’s a little bit lumpy in September,” the Premier said on Friday, unconvincingly.
Here in Victoria, we are badly in need of a reward or two for our hard work: perhaps an easing of mask rules, or dropping the punitive curfew. Something. And we deserve ASAP a road map to reopening: so we can plan, chart our progress and regain hope.
But it would be foolish to hasten out of lockdown while our case numbers remain stubbornly high – 450 new cases were reported on Saturday – and our vaccination numbers still leave millions unprotected.
Instead, we now have the luxury – if we can call it that – of watching from afar as Sydney takes a great leap into the unknown.
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