Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and a senior World Health Organisation adviser have warned Daniel Andrews his targets for easing Victoria’s lockdown are unrealistic.
Mr Hunt made an emotive appeal to the Victorian Premier on Monday night, urging him to re-evaluate his road map to recovery and saying his coronavirus goals are ‘not achievable’.
‘We’re saying to Victoria: Please listen to the calls and the cries of your people, your population who are saying “why can’t we do what NSW has done” and not to demand zero cases from 14 or 28 days,’ he told A Current Affair.
‘Some of the epidemiologists have said it is simply not a likely or achievable figure and therefore creates a barrier which would be insurmountable.’
Scientists at the CSL Biotech facility in Melbourne on Sunday. Health Minister Greg Hunt said a vaccine would likely be ready by the first quarter of next year
Mr Andrews has set a goal of reducing the 14-day average to five new infections per day before lockdowns are lifted, however the Federal Government is pressuring him to ease restrictions earlier.
The World Health Organisation’s Dale Fisher said that goal would prove difficult to achieve.
‘Why does (Daniel Andrews) need the numbers to be so low, to be less than five. Why can’t it be less than 10 or less than 20? He would probably say that, above that, you exceed the capacity to manage,’ he told The Australian.
‘You don’t have to be an infectious disease professor to realise: increase your capacity to manage. If the concern is that the contact-tracing teams will get overwhelmed, you simply wonder why you can’t have more contact-tracing teams.
But University of Melbourne lead modeller Jason Thompson told the ABC’s 7.30 that the higher the case load at re-opening, the higher the risk of more crippling shutdowns.
Reducing the fortnightly average case load to five per day would reduce the chance of another lockdown to just five per cent, he said.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews defended his lockdown strategy as having reduced daily case numbers from 725 to 41 in a month
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt implored Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to ‘listen to the cries of the people’. Pictured: coronavirus protests in Sydney on Saturday
‘We don’t just think about the next week or the next two weeks or the next four weeks,’ he said.
‘What we look at is the longer term. What are the risks associated with going in and out of these shutdowns and then opening up and then shut downs again.’
Victoria recorded 41 new cases of coronavirus to take the state’s total to 19,574 on Monday, according to Department of Health and Human Services figures.
Of the 1781 people sick with active infections, 266 are in hospital, 25 in intensive care.
Mr Hunt said testing, tracing and isolation had worked in Queensland, Tasmania and NSW, before comparing Victoria unfavourably with NSW.
‘That’s what’s worked in NSW which has had multiple potential outbreaks which could have led to the same impacts as Victoria but for the strength of their contact tracing,’ he said.
‘Isolation and lockdowns are what you do when everything else has failed.’
Mr Hunt said the coronavirus targets had to be real and achievable, and said the national cabinet plan that was implemented across the country to fight the first wave of coronavirus had been successful.
Mr Andrews said the lockdown was working and it would be foolish to lift restrictions too soon and risk having to put the state back in another lockdown before Christmas.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said contact tracing is the solution rather than lockdowns
Pictured: a man is arrested during anti-lockdown protests on Saturday in Sydney
‘In the last month we’ve gone from 725 cases about a month ago, to 41 cases today,’ he told ABC’s 7.30 on Monday.
‘So we are seeing very significant reductions in the number of people who’ve got this virus, the chains of transmission, the mystery cases.
‘The strategy’s working, but if you open up too much too early, you don’t stay open for long.’
When asked whether Sydney would be under curfew now if NSW had taken the same approach as Victoria, Premier Andrews rejected the premise.
‘Well I don’t think it would be because Sydney’s not had the amount of community transmission that we’ve had,’ he said.
Pictured: coronavirus protests in Sydney on Saturday. Tensions are rising over lockdowns and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is under increasing pressure to lift Victoria’s lockdowns
Scientists at the CSL lab in Melbourne. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt revealed pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca will not be liable for any side effects of a vaccine, however the government would not allow it to be released unless it is tested and safe
Victoria still has widespread community transmission from unknown sources, while NSW had only four new cases on Sunday bringing the state’s overall total to 3,929.
Business groups have been lobbying for an easing of restrictions that are destroying their economic livelihoods, with the December quarter crucial for the retail and hospitality sectors in particular.
Premier Andrews defended his road map saying it would save livelihoods to have the lockdown eased properly so businesses don’t spend the rest of the year and next year ‘bouncing in and out of lockdowns every four weeks’.
‘There can be no economic recovery until we deal with the health issue,’ he said.
Mr Andrews also defended his state’s contact tracing efforts, saying 2600 contact tracers had been meeting the national benchmarks of ‘getting to 100 per cent of contacts within 48 hours’
The premier reiterated that he was not interested in playing politics over the virus and that he would do ‘what’s right’ over ‘what’s popular’.
‘The politics of this has no value – the only thing that matters is we all stay the course, we all keep following the data,’ he said.
The final end to the risk of pandemic lockdowns is expected to come with a vaccine.
Mr Hunt said the coronavirus vaccine could be ready within the first months of 2021 if proven safe, ending the pandemic.
The government is now backing both the Astrazeneca vaccine and a slower alternative from the University of Queensland.
‘We’ll make them available on a free and voluntary basis to the whole of the Australian population,’ he told A Current Affair.
However he also said Australia had agreed to an indemnity for AstraZeneca leaving the pharmaceutical company free from liability for side effects, but assured Australians that it would not be released to the market unless it was safe.
MELBOURNE’S ROADMAP OUT OF COVID-19 LOCKDOWN – WHAT YOU WILL BE ABLE TO DO AND WHEN:
Step one: The first step will come in to place on September 13.
Step two: The second step will be implemented when Melbourne has 30-50 COVID-19 cases a day on average over the past 14 days. The aim is for this to come into place on September 28.
Step three: The move to step three will occur when there is a daily statewide average of five new cases over the past 14 days. The aim is for this to come into place on October 26.
Step four: The move to step four will come when there have been no new COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days. The aim is for this to come into place on November 23.
COVID Normal: After 28 days of no new COVID-19 cases, things will return to normal.
Step one – 11.59pm on September 13:
– Curfew will be eased to 9pm-5am
– People can still only leave home for the four reasons (shopping, exercise, work and care or medical attention)
– Public gatherings increased to two people, or a household, for a maximum of two hours
– Singles can have one nominated person to their home as part of the ‘singles social bubble’
– Childcare and early educators to remain closed
– Schools will continue to learn remotely unless they have exemptions
– Adult education to continue to be done remotely, unless they have exemption
– Only go to work if you are in a permitted industry
– Cafes and restaurants will continue with take away only
– Retail businesses will remain open for essential shopping, with others only operating with click and collect
– Only one person per household can do the essential shopping
Step two – September 28:
– Public gatherings increase again to five people from a maximum of two households
– Childcare and early educators can re-open
– Schools to continue with remote learning, but Prep to Grade Two and Year 11 and Year 12 students will gradually return to class in Term 4
– There will be an increase to permitted workplaces
Step three – October 26:
– Curfew is no longer in place
– There are no restrictions on leaving home
– Public gatherings increase to 10 people together outdoors
– A ‘household bubble’ will be introduced, so five people from one house can visit another
– Remote learning to continue, but Grades 3 to Year 11 can gradually return to class
– Adult education to continue to be done remotely, but hands on classes will see a phased return to onsite
– Work from home is encouraged
– Up to 10 people can eat together at restaurants and cafes, with the majority of tables outdoor
– Retail shops to reopen, with hairdresses operating under safety measures but beauty stores to remain closed
– Real estate agents can conduct private inspections by appointment
– The one person per household limit on shopping is to be revoked
Step four – November 23:
– Public gatherings to increase to 50 people outdoors
– Up to 20 visitors can attend a home at any one time
– All adult education will return to onsite with safety measures in place
– Groups limited to 20 indoors and a maximum of 50 patrons per venue
– All retail stores to reopen, while real estate agents can operate with safety measures and by keeping a record of attendants
Step five – COVID normal:
– Public gatherings have no restriction
– There will also be no restriction on visitors to homes
– Phased return to onsite work for work from home workers
– Schools to reopen as normal
– Restrictions on hospitality removed, but venues to continue keeping records