A top health official has refused to rule out lockdowns if NSW is hit by another pandemic.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant was asked on Monday whether with what is known now she would still recommend lockdowns and curfews.
Ms Chant did not give a straight-forward answer.
‘I think those matters can’t be answered in a simple question,’ she said.
‘And I think also one of the key learnings is that it is important we think about the future but we don’t plan for the next pandemic totally on what we have been through for the last.’
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant has refused to answer whether the Covid-period lockdowns and curfews are the right way to manage a pandemic
Last week Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced there would be three-member inquiry into Australia’s Covid responses but which would not look into ‘actions taken unilaterally by state and territory governments’.
As Covid measures such as lockdowns, curfews and the shutting internal borders were decided by state governments this means the inquiry won’t be examining these issues in any depth.
NSW police are seen issuing fines to a group of three women who broke the state’s health orders by congregating in a group of three in August 2021
During the Covid period the longest lockdown NSW experienced was 107 days that ended in October 2021 and it imposed curfews during that September on some of the suburbs worst hit with the Delta strain of the virus.
As gruelling as this was it pales against the 262-lockdown endured by Victorians, which came with more blanket curfews.
Dr Nick Coatsworth, who was the national deputy chief health officer during the pandemic, commented curtly that such exclusions mean the inquiry will ignore ‘pretty much everything they did’ to respond to Covid.
He previously called for the inquiry to examine whether independent public health powers should remain with states and territories during a pandemic.
‘Who determines proportionality of pandemic response and how are societal costs of pandemic restrictions assessed and balanced against need for disease control?’, asked Dr Coatsworth.
He took aim at Victorian Premier Dan Andrews who ‘thinks that the Covid inquiry should focus on vaccines, national medical stockpile and PPE’.
‘None of those are related to the core question. Proportionality,’ Dr Coatsworth added.
‘It is a word that he would prefer never enter into the historical record on our (and his) pandemic response. But it will.’
This criticism was echoed by other commentators and the opposition, who accused the Albanese government of shielding Labor premiers from scrutiny.
Australian Financial Review political editor Phillip Coorey accused Mr Albanese of treating ‘the Australian people like idiots’ by making the terms of the inquiry so narrow.
‘(The announcement) was so utterly disingenuous and patronising that the government would have more credibility had it just broken its promise altogether and done nothing,’ he wrote.
‘That means almost everything that still gives people nightmares about COVID – school closures, lockdowns, state border closures, vaccine mandates, failed contact tracing and overzealous policing – are all off limits,’ he wrote.
‘These are the actions that caused economic ruin, widespread heartache, mental health problems and which set back the education of thousands of children.’
Deputy leader of the Liberal Party Susan Ley branded the inquiry a ‘sham’, claiming it places ‘the political interests of the Labor party ahead of the interests of all Australians.
‘This is the prime minister looking after his labor mates at state government level,’ Senator Ley said on Seven’s Sunrise program.
‘How can you possibly have an inquiry that doesn’t look at the totality of what this did in a way that actually allows us to learn how to do better next time?’
Mr Albanese on Thursday claimed the inquiry was meeting his electoral promise, despite vowing to establish a much more powerful royal commission into Covid while opposition leader.
‘We said before the election and I’ve said since, given the enormous dislocation, the stress, the loss of life, the economic impact of the pandemic – it is appropriate that when we reached a certain period we would have an inquiry,’ Mr Albanese said.
‘We need to examine what went right (and) what could be done better with a focus on the future because the health experts and the science tells us that this pandemic may not be – indeed is not likely to be – the last one that occurs.’
Dr Nick Coatsworth, who was the national deputy chief health officer during the Covid period, says the Albanese government pandemic inquiry excludes the most important issues
The watered down commission of inquiry will lack the powers of a Royal Commission to compel witnesses to appear and testify truthfully.
It will be conducted by economist Angela Jackson, epidemiologist and regular Covid commentator Catherine Bennett, and public administration expert Robyn Kruk.
The inquiry’s timeframe of 12 months to examine the enormity of action during the period has also attracted criticism as being insufficient.