Why do Victorians avoid the virus test?

Is this man scary?

Actually he was not wearing a mask when he briefed the media that 9 out of 10 Victorians were not getting tested immediately when they showed symptoms. Further, 53 per cent of people did not self-isolate while awaiting results:

    Mr Andrews said the numbers had not been coming down “as we would like them to”.

    He said he was “very unhappy and very sad” to report that nearly nine in 10 people did not isolate between the time they first felt sick and when they went to get a test.

    “We just can’t have that any longer,” he said.

    When they did get tested, more than half did not self-isolate while waiting for results.

    “Fifty-three per cent of people continuing to do their shopping, continuing to go to work continuing to do all sorts of things,” he said.

It’s been a worry for a while. Back in early June we had Andrews ‘Please say yes’: Premier’s plea on COVID-19 testing. Back then he said 1000 people had refused tests when someone came knocking on their door in large-scale testing in a virus hot spot.

He only threatened compulsory testing of returning travellers who refuse COVID-19 tests. I think public sympathy would have backed him on that one. However, medical and ethical experts have warned him against legislation to force people to take a COVID-19 test. There was a line of experts saying people had the right to refuse. One had a different view:

    University of NSW epidemiologist Professor Mary-Louise McLaws said the reasons people might refuse testing were vast: from lack of understanding about the dangers of the virus, privacy reasons to feeling uncomfortable about the invasiveness of a nose or throat swab test.

    Professor McLaws also suspected authorities had a strong public health case to change laws and make tests mandatory given there was no vaccine in sight.

    “We cooperate with roadside testing for drugs and alcohol, we don’t have a choice, it’s the law and we all comply because we have seen the damage that certain drugs or alcohol can cause through speeding and poor judgment on the roads,” she said.

    “What we have to do is ask the community to seriously consider the ramifications if they are in a hotspot community and they refuse testing.”

Experts in communication are now lecturing Andrews that he must be clear, and he must be empathetic. He was certainly clear:

    “Unless we drive down the time between first illness, first sense of symptoms… unless we make that much faster than it is now, and people isolate in that intervening period, and unless we have people who get tested staying at home and isolating until they get their results, then we will not see these numbers come down.

    “They will continue to go up and up.

    ‘The one and only thing that you can and must do when you feel sick – is to go and get tested.’

That was from the 7News report Massive number of Victorians failing to self-isolate after feeling sick, getting coronavirus test, which represented Andrews message much more clearly than the ABC article, identifying his main concern as to the cause missed by the ABC story:

    Andrews said a large proportion of people who failed to self-isolate were those in casual jobs.

    “In their judgement, they’ll look at their bank balance, they’ll look at the fact that, if they don’t work the shift, they won’t get paid for the shift, they don’t have sick leave – this is a commentary on insecure work,” he said.

I heard the whole briefing live on ABC NewsRadio. He said that he would be taking up the issue of COVID sick leave for casual and temporary workers without those entitlements in National Cabinet. Meanwhile the Victorian Government was offering a $1500 payment to those workers, but only, I understand, if they are positive.

This has now been varied to give $300 to people waiting for the test, and then $1200 for post-test isolation.

For some workers there are reports that a no-show may mean they lose their job. Existing Fair Work Australia regulations allow sick leave without dismissal, and two days carer leave, which seems wholly inadequate.

A simple fix is for the federal government to pay ‘pandemic sick leave’. From Facebook, from someone one would expect to know:

    The Federal government should introduce 2 weeks paid annual leave for all 2.6m casuals paid at the rate of the minimum wage ($1500 per person for 2 weeks).

    This would cost a modest $3.9 billion per annum in a $500 billion Federal Budget.

A prudent investment. Small change in terms of the true cost of lockdowns, or the legislated tax cuts, or the sums being spent to save the economy from the effects of the pandemic.

Surely this could be sorted in about 10 minutes when besties Sally McManus and Christian Porter get their heads together. It may require legislation to prevent companies from discarding workers simply because they become ill for a short time.

Contact tracing

Beyond the above, problems have been encountered in COVID sufferers and contacts declining to co-operate with contact tracers.

The Victorian second wave presents contact tracing which is orders of magnitude greater that we have experienced in any state so far. This graph (from the AFR) illustrates the Victorian share of new cases:

NSW cases in the first wave were mainly Australians returning from overseas. The Victorian second wave is mainly local infection.

This image, from the ABC COVID monitoring site, contrasts the difference between NSW and Victoria:

I would suggest that attention needs to be paid to the style used by contact tracers, and their training. From what I’ve heard, NSW has decentralised teams, based on a decentralised health system where one would expect superior understanding of the local community.

The Victorian system is reputedly centralised, and has been supplemented by outside personnel, including call centre staff from corporations. The required skills are not the same.

No doubt there is training and orientation, but one way or another, Australia is being seriously tested in our virus response. There was some hubris, back-slapping and I suspect resultant complacency about our first wave performance, which was substantially different in kind from what European countries faced.

The move to masks was not before time:

A meta study which Raina MacIntyre was involved in published in early June, just after the WHO had renewed its policies, showed that masks might reduce the chances of infection by about 67%. Compliance in Melbourne seems good, so hopefully that should show up in the statistics from about the middle of next week.

Update: Border Runners Put State at Risk

That was a title of an article in the Courier Mail of 22 July. The following were found by authorities to be on the run, having entered Queensland from interstate or overseas:

  • 387 cases where police have not been able to find someone at their nominated quarantine address
  • 125 had left Queensland during the quarantine period
  • 17 found at different address due to personal circumstances
  • 35 found and fined for flouting the quarantine order
  • 25 had given a legitimate address but have never been located and are now wanted for questioning
  • 185 people cannot be found and are believed to have given false information

So what is the answer? Ankle bracelets and microchips for all, or hyping up a community communication campaign?

It seems pointless to appeal to commonsense and people’s better nature.

26 thoughts on “Why do Victorians avoid the virus test?”

  1. I would appreciate information on a recent Fair Work Australasia ruling against ‘pandemic sick leave’, when it was refused because they state of the pandemic did not justify it. I suspect that was just before the second wave got going.

    I also heard that the matter was being revisited with FWA, but I don’t know by whom.

  2. Reduce onfection by about 67% is pretty impressive. = reduce by a factor of 3.

    Back in March, Victorians were told masks weren’t going to help much (our case numbers were lowish then). But at tge same time, Govts were rushing to get extra supplies of masks for health care workers.

    That made sense when we KNEW that the majority of cases were in hospitals or “quarantine hotels”**

    I was amazed to hear a so-called “communications expert” advise the Premier he needed to show empathy.

    ** in Victoria, this term has a meaning quite distinct from its meaning on other States.
    🙁

  3. reduce infection
    the same time
    in other States

    ****
    Some might say, Brian, that there is a one-word answer to your headline question:

    STUPIDITY

  4. Ambi, I think we all have a quotient of stupid, selfish people. The question is whether the quotient is big enough and dangerous enough to ruin it for everyone.

    I heard Dan Andrews say, I think, that he is sending the army to Colac, where there were 27 in a town of around 11,000.

    Contacts would be rung twice, an hour apart, then someone would go and knock on their door.

    The idea is that this needs to happen as speedily as possible.

    I believe S Korea uses an app so people don’t have to manually record when they go into a restaurant.

    Why would someone stand at the door and hand you a pen that has been used by all the previous to write your name down?

    It’s happening, and in some places here in Qld not even that.

  5. I’ve done an update giving some info from a CM article that shows how difficult it will be to crush the virus, given the behaviour of a few.

    Update: Border Runners Put State at Risk

    That was a title of an article in the Courier Mail of 22 July. The following were found by authorities to be on the run, having entered Queensland from interstate or overseas:

    • 387 cases where police have not been able to find someone at their nominated quarantine address
    • 125 had left Queensland during the quarantine period
    • 17 found at different address due to personal circumstances
    • 35 found and fined for flouting the quarantine order
    • 25 had given a legitimate address but have never been located and are now wanted for questioning
    • 185 people cannot be found and are believed to have given false information

    So what is the answer? Ankle bracelets and microchips for all, or hyping up a community communication campaign?

    It seems pointless to appeal to commonsense and people’s better nature.

  6. A friend of mine had this relevant comment: “At 484 cases yesterday in Victoria, I suspect that workforce casualisation’s fatal flaw has been revealed.
    First World Australia & Third World Australia. First World Australia works full-time, while Third World Australia works casual. Third World Australia cannot afford to stop working, cannot afford self-isolation.”
    Asking third world Australians to stop working/earning for 5 days while waiting for a test result is punishment for being silly enough to get tested. Shows yet again a failure of too many politicians to understand what it is like to be a third world Australian. (I understand that Andrews is saying a testee can get a $300 payment to cover the 5 days but one wonders how long this will take and what complex hoops have to be jumped through.)
    Ideally we should all test if in doubt but……

  7. John, to me $300 does not sound enough.

    I’m not disputing the 5 days, because I have heard instances similar spoken about on talkback.

    However, 5 days is far too long. I think at Wuhan the Chinese got it down to about 4 hours eventually.

  8. Brian: “However, 5 days is far too long. I think at Wuhan the Chinese got it down to about 4 hours eventually.”
    I suspect part of the problem here is that testing is not prioritized and the test and symptom data has not been analysed to determine what symptoms/combination of symptoms are the more likely predictors of the virus.
    With this in mind I did the Health Direct Test to check should I get tested test. (https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/symptom-checker/tool/question/7276076/203/6) For someone our age contacting doctor was recommended if I had ANY of the following:
    headache
    muscle pains
    joint pain
    runny nose
    nausea
    vomiting or diarrhoea
    fatigue
    loss of appetite
    Hazels old hips are wearing out and some of my muscles are protest occasionally about all the canoeing and bike riding I do. My left thumb muscle hasn’t got used to all the paddling I do either. OK, I suspect my Dr would say I don’t need testing but, on the other hand, he tends to favour testing in general.
    My take is that widespread testing is desirable because it may pick up people who are asymptotic and confirm that the more likely suspects do or don’t have the virus.
    Suggest that it would be better to not insist that people isolate until the test results come out while speeding up the testing of samples from people who appear more likely to have the virus. This doesn’t mean that people who can afford to self isolate should voluntarily isolate until after the result comes out.

  9. John, I’m surprised that loss of taste and smell are not listed.

    From what I hear, the virus is quite ideosyncratic as to how it affects individuals. To affect taste and smell it needs to breach the body-brain barrier, which is normally quite difficult. This virus seems to do it at times without other effects.

    I’m sure all sorts of research is being done somewhere, and I wouldn’t critique the Victorians strategy or performance on testing. A few people complaining on talkback doesn’t mean much.

    I do understand that the Victorian testing is among the most on the planet. Qld was testing 6-10,000 per day at the max. Victoria has 25% more population, and was testing near or above 30,000 pd.

    The biggest worry is that while NSW new cases are mostly related to known clusters, most of the new cases in Victoria every day are from unknown sources.

    because of this Andrews says he has no idea where the state will be in a week or two. He just knows that if they were doing nothing there would be many thousands. Today cleaning up some stuff I came upon a graph from March on the front page of the AFR where flattening the curve and keeping the daily cases around 50,000 pd or less seemed better than the worst, which was 100,000 plus pd.

  10. Brian: “Victoria has 25% more population, and was testing near or above 30,000 pd.” Figures of waiting for 5 days for a test result means that 150,000 people will be isolated and unable to work waiting for test results. Actual cases for Vic was 258 on 24 July. At that rate only 1290 of the 150,000 isolated waiting for test results will be infected. (0.09%) We need more tests to pick up the start of a problem somewhere but the punishment for being tested when the odds say it is most unlikely that they would be infected is perhaps too high.

  11. Pedantry alert.

    John, asymptotic is a mathematical term.

    E.g. the graph of 1/x is asymptotic to the horizontal axis as x becomes very large

    E.g. 1/n approaches 0 asymptotically as n increases without limit.

    But you knew that.

    Asymptomatic is “without symptoms”.

    If only pandemics and public health were as simple as maths.

    🙁

  12. I’ll have to have a think about that, but I think the latest positive rate was 3%. Problem is that if you have had contact and have a negative test, then you are not in the clear because of the possible extended incubation period. And the effect of missing a positive case can be high.

    Casey Briggs confused me for the first time last night. news is that Victoria has had 627 yesterday after 743 (?) the day before.

    I think there are separate stories going on. One is how badly we are failing in places like abattoirs and aged care homes.

    The second is community transfer apart from that, which is a minority of the cases, from memory around 50, which is not so bad.

    Andrews is copping it, but the feds could come in with pandemic leave, and having a Royal Commission running is no reason for sitting on their hands with aged care homes. We don’t have staffing ratio standards, the feds should be supplying staff PPE and requiring them to be used, and the funding is threadbare.

    I heard yesterday Victoria has assembled a team of 200 who are going through the worst affected homes and trying to relocate people elsewhere. This is in an area that is not state responsibility, but probably should be.

    Did everyone hear about what happened to Bill Shorten’s neighbour? The grandfather was in a home. The family couldn’t find him for five days, when he turned up dead.

    At one stage a Commonwealth official rang to say he was fine, when in fact he had died the day before.

  13. The Victorian authorities keep claiming that most of the community transmission is occurring at workplaces.

    If you feel sick, fair enough: stay away from work and get tested.

    But some of these valiant workers must surely be “asymptomatic”. Do we know how common that is in Australia – or indeed in Victoria??

    (I mean, what percentage of people who get COVID19 here show no symptoms?)

  14. Brian: “I’ll have to have a think about that, but I think the latest positive rate was 3%. Problem is that if you have had contact and have a negative test, then you are not in the clear because of the possible extended incubation period.”
    My problem is that above is saying that we are going to be very very careful even though it means people living and working on the fringe are going to really struggle as a result and may lose their job. The message to anyone on the fringe is “don’t be tested if you can avoid it unless you feel really really sick.” $300 is not going to be enough and who knows what you have to do to get it and how long will it take to get the money?
    Big attraction of compulsory masks is that it is easy to check compliance and they are particularly effective at stopping asymptotic people spreading the virus.

  15. Yes, very easy to check!

    Months ago we heard from PM Ardern that everyone had to behave as if they were infectious.

    Whether feeling crook or completely asymptomatic.

    Makes sense.
    Possibly Victoria needs a thoroughly NZ style monastic closure.
    Mask wearing will be mandatory in our (regional Vic) town from Monday. Today in the main streets, still only 30 to 40% wearing them.

    Good luck and good night, Australia.

  16. Hesitant as I am to raise the vexed topic of “ultra libertarianism”, this is from a columnist in “The Australian” today:

    Sovereign citizens and an imaginary Constitution

    What on Earth is going on here? Victoria Police report they have encountered pockets of the sovereign citizen movement, a loose coalition of ultra libertarians who claim they have the right to opt out of the state’s laws whenever it suits them.

    Aside from their amusing waffling about the Australian Constitution that they could not possibly have read or selective citing of the Magna Carta that they also have not read, events in Victoria show just how dangerous these people can be and how quickly noncompliance of temporary Covid laws can escalate into violence.

    Both in the US and here the SovCit movement poses a significant threat to law enforcement. In the US, police officers have been murdered while undertaking routine traffic stops.

    The FBI lists the SovCit movement as a domestic terrorist group.

    Bleedin’ ‘eck!
    Are they copying US extremists, these clowns Downunder?

  17. Mr A, that article is paywalled.
    Was it by that idiot Jack the Insider that loves far left cartoonists on ABC Insiders ?

  18. Which is also, in and of itself an “argument against the person”, the exact translation of argumentum ad hominem.

    Now go look in a mirror and see a hypocrite.

  19. I will again remind the I’ll-informed, libertarians are not anarchists.
    Antifarts are behaving more like anarchists than anyone, BLM a close second at the moment.

  20. Which is also, in and of itself an “argument against the person”

    Ummm, it’s not an argument against anything, unless you truly believe “the sky is blue” is an argument against the atmosphere.

    I will again remind the I’ll-informed, libertarians are not anarchists.

    Quite right; from Wikipedia:

    Libertarianism (from Latin: libertas, meaning “freedom”), or libertarism (from French: libertaire, meaning “libertarian”), is a political philosophy and movement that upholds liberty as a core principle. Libertarians seek to maximize political freedom and autonomy, emphasizing individualism, freedom of choice and voluntary association. Libertarians share a skepticism of authority and state power,

    Whereas

    Anarchism is a political philosophy and movement that rejects all involuntary, coercive forms of hierarchy. It calls for the abolition of the state which it holds to be undesirable, unnecessary, and harmful.

    Chalk and cheese!

  21. If I recall aright, zoot, there was a time, around 1970 when serious ‘anarchists’ started calling themselves ‘libertarians’. Now that was 50 years ago, of course; times and labels change.

    I think it may have happened because ‘anarchists’ were sick and tired of being seen as “bomb-throwing anarchists” a la 1900 or thereabouts.

  22. Now Premier Andrews says Stage 4 restrictions might not be eased if the testing rate keeps reducing (even if case numbers show a dropping trend).

    Why? ?

    Because authorities believe most folk showing symptoms have probably caught COVID, because the seasonal ‘flu znd tge common cold have practically disappeared in Victoria .

    Praise be.

  23. Ambi, today I heard Andrews say that he was disappointed with 17,000 tests, and if they didn’t test more they wouldn’t have a good pattern of where the virus was and wasn’t.

    I also heard yet another ‘expert’ (new ones keep tuning up) who suggested that Victoria’s testing could have been better targeted.

    I don’t know what is going on.

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