For 6.6 million Victorians the cycle of lockdowns begins again. Schools closed, business shut, and the life of communities asphyxiated.
And as Victorians know by now, after a total of more than five months of lockdown, with the lockdowns come the evasions, the half-truths, and the obfuscations delivered by the Andrews government, that the Melbourne media then repeats uncritically.
Last year Victorians were told the lockdowns were required to “flatten the curve” and ensure hospitals were not overwhelmed by COVID-19 cases.
As of Wednesday this week, the federal Department of Health reported there were 21 cases in Australian hospitals. There were 13 hospitalisations in Queensland, three each in NSW and the Northern Territory, and two in Victoria.
No one talks any more about “flattening the curve”.
Which begs the question of what is the purpose of the Victorian government’s strategy for managing COVID-19? For that matter the same question could be asked of the federal government.
Presumably both are pursuing a strategy of total “elimination” of COVID-19, although neither Daniel Andrews nor Scott Morrison has admitted as much. As yet no political leader in Australia has been pressed to answer the question of what precisely is the objective of their COVID-19 strategy.
This week Victorians were told the state’s current lockdown (its fourth) was necessary because, according to Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, an “absolute beast” of a strain of the virus was circulating in Melbourne.
In fact, there’s no evidence this new strain is spreading faster or in a different way from previous strains, and the claim that it could be caught by “fleeting contact” was based on a “false positive” test result.
There’s no justification for Victoria’s latest lockdown, and based on previous experience, if a similar outbreak had occurred in Sydney, Premier Gladys Berejiklian would not have closed NSW.
The Prime Minister, after spending more than a year taking as little interest as possible in what’s happening in Victoria, now has to be careful.
He wasn’t roused in July last year when 3000 residents in public housing towers in Melbourne were confined in their apartments for five days with, as a report from the Victorian Ombudsman identified, no notice or warning.
As one resident said, “They treated us like animals. Pretty much you have been put in a cell in your own home.”
Nor was the PM apparently bothered when in September, just outside of Melbourne, a pregnant mother was handcuffed and arrested by police in her living room after a Facebook post supporting a public protest against the Andrews government.
Those things were only about the civil rights of Victorians. However, a threat to the Coalition’s re-election chances might finally get Morrison to pay attention to what the Victorian government is doing.
The suggestion by Victorian ministers and the Melbourne media that the state’s latest lockdown is somehow the fault of the federal government is ludicrous. Yet it’s a narrative beginning to get traction.
Even if the federal government was operating a quarantine camp in the middle of the desert, as opposed to how the Victorian government did it by housing people in hotels in the middle of the central business district, there’s still no guarantee the virus wouldn’t escape.
And if any government in Australia is responsible for encouraging so-called “vaccine hesitancy”, it is the Andrews government.
For more than a year Victorians have been told day in and day out to be terrified of any risk whatsoever to their health.
Victorians have been told that no measure to secure their safety is too draconian, which is why, for example, Melburnians are required to wear masks outside even if they are going for a walk alone.
In an environment such as this, no one should be surprised if some people, for reasons real or imagined, are cautious about taking the vaccine.
A few days ago, Sir John Bell, a professor of medicine at Oxford University, made clear what’s beginning to dawn on Australians. COVID-19 “is here to stay, probably forever” and governments should focus on managing “hospitalisations, serious disease and deaths”.
“If we scamper down a rabbit hole every time we see a new variant, we’re going to spend a long time huddled away.”