Lock down hard or you’ll be stuck where you are until Christmas, NSW has been told by the Melbourne Burnet Institute, who did the modelling which helped Victoria escape its long lockdown in 2020.
Let me say at the outset that I agree with Professor Catherine Bennett, Deakin University’s Chair in Epidemiology, who said in an article in The Age that:
- harsh measures like a nightly curfew and kilometre limit might not be required in NSW.
“I do think that the routes of transmission that they’re seeing in NSW should guide the interventions, not just putting things in place because they’ve been used elsewhere,” she said.
Back on June 24 Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told us Why a snap COVID-19 lockdown won’t work for Sydney’s Bondi outbreak. The Delta variant was already well and truly abroad and could not be reined in by a three-day lockdown like those other states had used.
Less than three weeks later with all of Sydney plus some adjacent areas locked down, harder than before, new cases rose from 11 to over 100. The virus was winning in the community:
On Monday, with the modelling released, Professor Tony Blakely told Patricia Karvelas Hard lockdown [is the] only option as COVID cases reach triple figures in NSW. The report included this scary graph:
The short story is that the Burnet modellers found that the Victorian restrictions at Stage 3 plus masks were similar to the NSW restrictions instituted from 9 July. On the assumption that the Delta variant is twice as infectious as the one the Victorians were dealing with, they found that cases would not decline significantly in the coming month unless NSW tightened restrictions further.
However, if NSW moved to the Stage 4 restrictions used by Victoria from 5 August 2020 then the outbreak could be made manageable within four or five weeks.
(Note: This Live Science comparison of coronavirus variants says that Delta is 60% more infectious than Alpha, which was 50% more infectious than the Wuhan strain. My maths says that makes Delta 2.4 times more infectious than Wuhan.)
This graphic contains the more detailed differences between the state scenarios:
Apart from the nightly curfew and kilometre limit, Victoria in Stage 4 shut down food courts, closed non-essential retail, and closed all but the most essential sectors of industry. Burnet could not model these factors separately, because they were all implemented together.
Some have said that NSW is having the lockdown when you don’t have a lockdown, because so much of the economy remained open. Certainly in NSW more discretion has been left with businesses and people.
As more retailers are designated ‘exposure sites’ and amid confusion about ‘essential work’ authorities are appealing to common sense.
One reason for allowing more activity to continue is that many people need to work to put bread on the table and pay for the roof over their heads. We need to remember that Victoria’s Stage 4 lockdown was made when JobKeeper was $1500 per fortnight, or $750 per week, which is equivalent to the basic wage. I suspect that the Commonwealth benefit of $500 per week, paid in Victoria this year during a lockdown after JobKeeper finished, would be significantly short of what most need to maintain a dignified existence.
Now NSW and the Commonwealth have come up with a joint plan of personal and industry support which lifts personal payments to $600 per week, and will cost $500 billion per week overall.
I can’t find a link, but Patricia Karvelis was told on ABC RN Drive yesterday that overall the package amounted to 2.5% of NSW state product. As such, the NSW economy would go backwards. Today the Commonwealth Bank found that the NSW event would see Australia’s GDP in negative territory for the September quarter, which could flow through to the December quarter, giving us a net recession.
Daniel Hunter, Business NSW CEO, told Karvelis how industry had been working with NSW and the Feds to come up with a workable package. Business confidence was improved by the fact that the Commonwealth was going to hand over industry support money for Services NSW to distribute. They hoped the NSW-Commonwealth deal might establish a new template that could help other states.
Jennifer Hewett in the AFR today captures the politics of the situation:
- The new package negotiated between Macquarie Street and Canberra allows both governments to come together to share the financial cost and try to limit the political pain.
That made the joint press conference performance by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Gladys Berejiklian on Tuesday a delicate exercise in political management. They had to demonstrate their two governments can cushion the impact of their mutual failures – but without publicly holding the other leader to account.
It included repeated expressions of both leaders’ confidence about Australians’ ability to get through a very tough time with generous support from their state and federal governments “having their back”.
Instead of blaming each other both governments blamed the Delta variant and circumstances. No mention of Commonmwealth failures in quarantine or of botched vaccine acquisition and delivery.
The Victorian Government released a scathing statement on Tuesday afternoon:
- which stated residents were “sick and tired” of having to beg for help and that the support for NSW represented a “double standard”.
“Everyone in Australia believes that people in Sydney and NSW deserve every possible support as they battle a second wave and a long lockdown,” the statement said.
“But Victorians are rightly sick and tired of having to beg for every scrap of support from the federal government.”
“It shouldn’t take a crisis in Sydney for the Prime Minister to take action but we are seeing the same double standard, time and time again.”
Victorians were constantly lectured last year, especially by Josh Frydenberg, about their quarantine failure, and the notion that if they had a contact tracing/testing/isolation system as good as the ‘gold standard’ of NSW, they would not need lockdowns. This year as Victoria fought a virus that escaped via a Victorian who had quarantined in Adelaide and subsequently showed up infected in Melbourne, they again copped jawboning rather than help.
It is completely unthinkable that the kind of cooperation we have just seen with NSW would happen between the Commonwealth Government and the current Queensland government. We get help on their terms, or not at all.
Because NSW is so large and so central, the rest of Australia will suffer damage but receive no support.
For example, Whitsunday tourism operators were hit immediately with cancellations. Yesterday I heard that bookings had recovered to 80% of capacity before the latest outbreaks, so there was finally some optimism after experiencing disrupted school holiday bookings for two years. Now interstate people are not just deferring, they are asking for their money back.
Last weekend questions were asked as to why Morrison, emerging from lockdown, would travel to Sydney. It is now clear that he did it to stand behind Gladys Berejiklian:
This, from the AFR, is the comparative trajectory of the current NSW outbreak compared with what happened in Victoria last year:
Rafael Epstein in asking some salient questions about the NSW event believes NSW is making the same mistakes that Victoria made last year.
Victoria is once again under virus attack, including over 2000 spectators having to isolate after going to the footy. It seems likely that a short sharp pre-emptive lockdown will occur.
If they do they will get no help from the Commonwealth unless the Commonwealth ‘hotspot’ is triggered, and a lockdown of more than 7 days has resulted.
It is possible that NSW and the Commonwealth have seriously underestimated the Delta variant, so that strict lockdowns are seen as a ‘last resort’ as contact tracing becomes overwhelmed.
Berejiklian says that the COVID beast will be defeated if people do as she asks.
In my humble opinion she should base her plans on what she thinks people will do, not on what they should do.
However, my hope is that she succeeds, in the interests of all.