4 January 2021

NSW hubris increases COVID-19 risks with softly, softly approach

| Ian Bushnell
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COVID-19 warning sign after Sydney outbreak. Photo: David Murtagh.

Canberrans saw the warning signs as soon as the Sydney outbreak hit. Photo: David Murtagh.

Surely the Premier State’s so-called gold standard approach to handling the COVID-19 pandemic has lost some of its lustre after the past few weeks of softly, softly responses to first the Northern Beaches outbreak and now the inner-west cluster.

From the outset, experts outside NSW Health questioned whether Gladys Berejiklian’s government was doing enough, calling for tougher restrictions to contain the virus.

But the Premier did not want to be the Christmas Grinch, and the rationale was all about balancing the need to stop the virus spreading, the mental health of Sydneysiders and, of course, the economy.

The tone was apologetic, and the measures reluctant and minimal. There was no South Australia-style lockdown to kill the outbreak.

Attending the New Year’s Eve fireworks was banned only after becoming obvious to everyone that the annual party would be a super spreader event.

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Even now, after the virus has been exported to Victoria, the confirmation of a separate inner-west cluster, cases in Wollongong, and the potential for cases to emerge on the Far South Coast thanks to a couple of Victorian holidayers who had previously been in Sydney, the NSW Government continues to talk in terms of ”should” do this or ”it would be in your best interests” to do that, as if measures were optional.

At least it finally mandated the wearing of masks indoors, but the tippy-toeing around what people needed to do has only made the situation worse.

It was no surprise at all that other states re-imposed hard borders to keep any further carriers out.

The danger to a COVID-free ACT at this time of the year was clear right from the start, with Sydney only a few hours away and so many Canberrans on the move, particularly on the South Coast.

And despite advice to people in the NSW hotspot areas not to travel to the ACT, they kept coming, giving the government no choice but to impose border controls and quarantine measures.

When the Victorian quarantine breaches resulted in the deadly spread of the virus and the shutdown that followed, that state suffered relentless political attacks from the Commonwealth, mostly in the form of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg who could see his economic credentials going up in smoke and who also wanted to shore up the parlous condition of the Liberal opposition in his home state.

NSW was held up as the standard by which other states should measure their performance. Now it too has breaches that still have the potential for the virus to explode out of control and not just within its borders.

So instead of Ms Berejiklian patting her citizens on the back, holding opaque press conferences and complaining about border closures, she should show a bit more urgency, come clean with the public and get realistic about what is needed.

What isn’t needed is 20,000 people pouring into the SCG for the Australia-India Test, and again it shows her reluctance to take tough decisions.

What we have also learned is that after a year of COVID-19, somehow international travellers, whether they be the rich and famous, diplomats or flight crews, have been able to claim quarantine exemptions, or in the case of flight crews, flout their arrangements.

The source of the Northern Beaches outbreak remains a mystery, except for the virus being a US variant. That traveller came and went, leaving a COVID-19 calling card.

The inner-west cluster centred on a bottle shop has now been revealed to be sourced from a transport worker who delivered a family returning from overseas to a health facility.

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All this shows that there remain gaps in the system that is supposed to protect the health of Australians and that the gaps need to be closed.

With the virus raging in other parts of the world, Australia’s island status is the nation’s strength and greatest protection.

While the Prime Minister has been happy to defer to the states, it is the Commonwealth which is responsible for the country’s borders and quarantine measures.

A little less political cheerleading and more national leadership are required as we head into what will be another dangerous phase in the pandemic.

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HiddenDragon7:34 pm 04 Jan 21

People who think that the answer to every positive Covid 19 test in a jurisdiction is a lockdown (whether “short and sharp” or “long and hard”) until vaccines are rolled out, should reflect carefully upon the practical implications of these comments from Professor Paul Kelly’s press conference on 16 December 2020 –

“……at the moment, unfortunately, the vaccines that we know most about don’t appear to demonstrate any protection from transmission of the virus.

They are very effective at stopping disease from the virus in an individual person, but it may well be that that transmission might continue.”

Full transcript here –

https://www.health.gov.au/news/acting-chief-medical-officer-press-conference-about-covid-19-on-16-december-2020

More reason to get vaccinated, and repeat the vaccination if necessary. Anti-vaxers will have to take their chances.

For the record the “so called” Gold Standard monika was given by the PM and was specifically related to contract tracing.

And frankly overall I believe the way NSW has approached things has been the most balanced of all states and territories.

I leave the ACT out of this as we have not really had hard decisions to make for the most part.

And yet despite NSW’s more reasonable and measured restrictions there has so far been no major outbreak like what occurred in Victoria with still only minimal case numbers, almost all of which are linked to known cases and not one patient in ICU.

So perhaps rather than wondering where NSW has failed, maybe you should wonder why they are succeeding at present?

Instead of the instant knee-jerk reaction that we immediately need hard lockdowns and harshly mandated restriction and bans as a first response, Perhaps it’s time for the author to admit that there can be balance?

And if you really want to look at where every single recent failure in containment has occurred, it’s from overseas travellers returning to Australia and in hotel quarantine.

So maybe, it’s time to take more drastic measures there by utilising offshore quarantine at Christmas island or building a purpose built facility in a remote area where workers would FIFO rather than being directly linked to the general populace?

Capital Retro7:53 am 04 Jan 21

Let’s pretend for a moment that you are the “national leader”, Ian.

What is your plan to solve the problem and how would you enforce it?

Be careful what you wish for. The role of media is to challenge any Government removal of civil liberties. Not act as a cheer squad to draconian measures, applauding them and urging more.
This allows governments to pass oppressive laws in the name of ‘battling’ the pandemic.
Civicus is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists. Civicus’s latest report, “Attack on people power”, says the Asia Pacific region has seen “attempts by numerous governments to stifle dissent by censoring reports of state abuses, including in relation to their handling of the pandemic”.
It cites increased surveillance and tracking – currently used for contact tracing – as well as the imposition of strict laws intended to stifle any criticism as some of the ways in which this happens.
Given that many of these measures are introduced as a response to the pandemic, there is little to no resistance against them.
When a docile and unquestioning media fails in its duty to vigilantly defend civil liberties, society moves closer to totalitarianism. So be very careful what you wish for.

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