3 February 2022

ACT Government prepares itself to deal with pandemic for years: 'It's not going away'

| Lottie Twyford
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people queuing at Coles curtin

The ACT Government expects COVID-19 will need to be managed with appropriate legislation for the next few years. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr has painted a bleak portrait of the next few years, telling a committee inquiry earlier this week (1 February) that appropriate legislation must be in place so the government can manage the “peaks and troughs” of the pandemic for “years to come”.

Currently, specific legislation intended to allow the government to make public health directions when a public health emergency has passed is going through public hearings before it is debated in the Assembly later in the year.

“Based on where we are now and the experience of the last two years, and what’s being forecast that lies ahead of us, is that we will be dealing with COVID-19 as a significant issue for many, many years to come,” Mr Barr stated.

“There will be peaks and troughs. There will be new variants and new waves … this is not going away.”

For this reason, the ACT Government is attempting to pass ‘fit-for-purpose’ legislation to manage the COVID-19 pandemic when it’s no longer considered an ’emergency’ situation.

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith and Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith and Chief Minister Andrew Barr said there will be challenging periods ahead. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Both Mr Barr and Ms Stephen-Smith were clear the next few years would be unlikely to follow a linear path, and it will always be possible to shift from a management situation back to an emergency one and vice versa.

“[This bill] was introduced pre-Omicron, in an environment where we thought we’d be moving to a relatively low-level of cases in the community and trying to manage [these cases],” Ms Stephen-Smith said.

“The reality is where we are now is genuinely a health emergency.”

Ms Stephen-Smith said it was likely some periods would be more challenging, especially if the Northern Hemisphere’s experience in the winter months was anything to go by.

As has long been the style of the ACT’s authorities, Mr Barr wouldn’t put a number on what caseloads would trigger a move from one scenario to another.

“That’s obviously a difficult question to answer in an absolute black and white fashion. There wouldn’t be any one particular number that would dictate one decision or the other.

“Clearly, there are a range of considerations that would be before the Chief Health Officer, before the cabinet, and indeed before the Assembly that would pertain to both local, national and global information,” Mr Barr said.

He noted that various factors such as caseloads, hospital admissions, the impact on the health system and community wellbeing would all be taken into account.

READ ALSO Government rejects claims of a drop in spending on public housing

The current Public Health Emergency Declaration is due to end on 12 February, although it’s highly likely it will be extended. The ACT has been in a continuous state of emergency since 16 March 2020.

Under the new legislation, the government could declare public health directions such as mandating vaccines, masks, quarantine and density limits. However, another lockdown couldn’t be put in place.

While the Chief Health Officer will retain a central role, the ultimate power to make public health directions would rest with the Executive.

“If we think about the way we have been managing, and are currently managing the pandemic, that’s effectively been ‘test, trace, isolate and quarantine’ directions that need a health judgment from the health officer and are not so much about balancing the social and economic impacts,” Ms Stephen-Smith explained.

“I think people are looking for that accountability around those decisions that have a specific social and economic impact.”

The bill will be debated in the Assembly later in the year.

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Maybe we should all be microchipped like our dogs. Then when we walk into places they can scan the chip. Saves time for those pesky mandatory check ins. As for the check ins, my wife and I were discussing this. We are struggling to see why we should still do this. However we will continue to comply. I should note that I am NOT a conspiracy theorist but whenever governments get additional powers, no matter how well intentioned, they are reluctant to revoke them.

HiddenDragon7:28 pm 03 Feb 22

“However, another lockdown couldn’t be put in place.”

If that holds true (i.e. there aren’t any sneaky late amendments to the bill before it is rubber stamped by the Assembly), then it is even more difficult to understand the refusal of the Health Minister and her officials to accept reality about the check-in app, as reported here –

https://the-riotact.com/act-records-529-new-cases-of-covid-19-16-and-17-year-olds-to-be-added-to-booster-program/530661

and in an item on the local ABC TV news tonight which alluded to the possibility that detailed contact tracing may be reintroduced in the future.

Thoughts of resuming detailed contact tracing, with Omicron or an even more contagious variant, but without the strictest of lockdowns, are a futile fantasy – time to let go, and concentrate on vaccination and other sensible preventative measures, including educating people about the value of masks which really work, rather than just serve as a sign of compliance.

As a disclosure, I shall resume using the check-in app when I am provided with a new good reason, with reiteration of limited data retention and access.

Why are we still being directed to QR code into every venue?
They gave up genuine contact tracing last year.
Surely some of these ‘powers’ need reviewing.
I’m no conspiracy theorist but I do wonder why this Gov still wants us to freely surrender all of this personal data when it clearly has nothing to do with the covid effort.

Guess there is another left wing issue to whinge about now for the next few years. Toss it onto the pile along with climate change, BLM and “housing affordability”.

Evidence keeps mounting that government action is useless or counter productive:

https://sites.krieger.jhu.edu/iae/files/2022/01/A-Literature-Review-and-Meta-Analysis-of-the-Effects-of-Lockdowns-on-COVID-19-Mortality.pdf

Two years under emergency conditions is a police state.

This is a new study, apparently with no peer review and internally published, so I will be interested in any responses from other researchers if they think it worthwhile.
TheSilver, what do you think of the facts that the study excluded studies using either lockdown timing or serial study of mortality? Do you have a view? I find both actions highly dubious, on brief reading, as these are pretty standard research processes. What about use of synthetic controls or local comparisons? The JHU writers appear to exclude these in part to defend a notion of “voluntary behaviour” to account for that which might otherwise be ascribed to lockdowns, yet isn’t sudden impact on behaviour a feature of lockdowns?
I noted in passing that it shows Sweden had four times the fatality rate of Norway, where they said Swedes socialised while Norwegians were locked down, for which the authors blame the Swedish government for not doing more to tell people to stay home. Is this not somewhat self-contradictory, defeating their primary theses both about the value of lockdowns and the value of voluntary behaviours? How did you review that data? Isn’t demanding more action from the government somewhat contrary to calling government action useless?

As I said before, I think the state of science is pretty bad and you can pretty much “prove” whatever you want through p-hacking and deliberate methodology construction. This is particularly the case for anything that has a small signal and you’re dealing with the real world. This is why ivermectin has a large support base, the opioid crisis was allowed to happen, and why we’re seeing the same problems with SSRIs. The most amusing case I’ve seen is parapsychology:
https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/04/28/the-control-group-is-out-of-control/
which links to this paper:
http://www.richardwiseman.com/resources/staring1.pdf

Ultimately, I think principles matter more: Negative natural rights are innate and inalienable, and the primary purpose of government is to protect these rights for the minority. I have absolutely no problems with the government making strong recommendations, and with something like the pandemic, most people will voluntarily follow those anyway because they are self interested. I have a strong problem with mandates of any kind because it violates the underlying principles and leaves you with no legs to stand on when the populous’ mood changes towards something you do care about down the line.

On this particular matter, you may also like this 2006 paper:
https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.552.1109&rep=rep1&type=pdf

The 2006 paper is interesting in the context of a less infectious, less deadly, disease which is respiratory rather than viraemic. It is otherwise irrelevant. I suspect also that you confuse lockdown with quarantine which in lockdown occurs only at a local level (e.g. houses).
If you think so little of scientific endeavour, why are you trying to buttress your position with it? Are you discussing what can be done in science, or that some is done badly then some other people grab at it to support their preferred assumptions?
Regarding your “innate and inalienable” rights, who or what conferred them on you? If no-one / nothing then why are they not always exercisable? Does that not imply that your “rights” depend on society, so if you want different “rights” you must try to change society? See, for example, history.

There’s any number of issues where politics drives science. The one I’m most familiar with from working on the R18+ for video games category is the ongoing Ferguson versus Anderson back and forth on whether games cause aggression. The same politicisation is clearly at play here, most obviously with the lab leak hypothesis, but it is clearly manifesting elsewhere too.

At any rate, the question isn’t whether NPIs prevent infections; that’s far too reductionist. The question is whether in the big picture sense the totality of good outweighs the harm. No one knows that, especially not the government, so I see it as fighting fire with fire.

This is a government that had people arrested for exercising outdoors away from others at a time when we already knew that, after age, obesity was the biggest risk factor. I think all 25 of them should be in the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

That isn’t to say there weren’t things that government could do. I knew people who worked in aged care facilities. The pay is so bad that they worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, which almost certainly contributed to seeing the virus entering the facilities during lockdown. Wouldn’t something like heavily subsidising wages with the string that the workers worked only one job and socialised less have been better? There’s any number of smarter things like that that wouldn’t have damaged the social fabric as much as what their actions did. Remember the virus couldn’t even be kept out of Antartica. What we got was typical: middle class welfare while “essential” workers economic position was made worse. Popular in Canberra given the demographics.

Negative rights are an axiomatic position for me. I cannot prove them.

I accept that you hold that axiomatic position and that it underpins your views. No point in me arguing with that; at least, not here. Your consequentialist arguments are valid to me, even if not agreed.
To respond in kind purely for your information, I would grant you innate rights to think and to desire. All else is constructed as individuals and as a society for whatever ends we determine. The fact we have, over many thousand years, developed principles we consider sufficiently sound to put them into things like the UN Declaration of Human Rights etc, shows our history and development, not the injection of something innate nor the end of the matter.
As a side comment, I was amused while reading elsewhere to see that right-libertarians (e.g. Narveson) hold retention of private property as a negative right, while left-libertarians (e.g. Sterba) hold as a negative right:
“the liberty of the poor not to be interfered with in taking from the rich”
I read this in “Philosophy in Review” 2011 No 2, although a different formulation to the same effect can be found in Wikipedia with other arguments.
My own view of their conflict is that if you start with a false premise then anything follows (ex falso quodlibet), and there I trust to leave it.

It’s either an emergency or not.

They should use the existing legislation rather than trying to expand their powers just to make their jobs easier.

Honestly, considering the amount of time our MLAs waste on fringe issues, they should have no problem finding time here.

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