Victoria’s coronavirus lockdown is unnecessary because there are no mystery cases and could have been avoided if the state government had set up a universal QR code check-in system, a diseases expert has told Daily Mail Australia.
Seven million Victorians are being ordered to stay at home in a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown that started on Friday morning as an outbreak in Melbourne grew to 30 cases of the Indian variant of the disease.
But Professor Peter Collignon, of the Australian National University, said short lockdowns impose huge costs and do not help stop the spread of the virus as long as cases and contacts are isolated by a good tracing system.
Residents line up to be vaccinated at a mass coronavirus vaccination hub at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre in Melbourne on May 28
A jogger runs past a near-deserted Flinder Street Station during the morning rush hour in Melbourne. The city was deserted due to lockdown
Five reasons Victoria should not be in a state-wide lockdown
1. No mystery cases
2. Cases only in Melbourne
3. Elimination strategy is unsustainable
4. Lockdown is not needed if tracing and testing is good enough
5. State government failed to roll out universal QR check-in system
Source: Professor Peter Collignon
‘The main reason for a lockdown is when you have a lot of community cases where you don’t know where they’re coming from because your contact tracers are overwhelmed.
‘The Victorian one hasn’t been in that situation,’ he said.
‘Lockdowns have a lot of economic and social cost. If you pull the trigger too early you have the cost without necessarily having a better outcome.’
Speaking about short lockdowns in other states and New Zealand over the past year, Professor Collignon said: ‘None of those have prevented transmission any more than good case finding and testing.
‘I can’t see how any of these short lockdowns have made much difference and they’ve brought a lot of social and economic cost, particularly a state-wide lockdown. It’s the extent of it as well.’
The infectious diseases expert pointed out that when Melbourne suffered an outbreak in January, centered at the Smile Buffalo Thai restaurant in Black Rock, lockdown was not required and the spread was snuffed out by contact tracing and isolating.
He also said New South Wales has shown on several occasions how to keep an outbreak at bay without needing a big lockdown.
‘If you look at New South Wales, they haven’t had city-wide lockdowns or statewide lockdowns with larger numbers of infections and have been able to control the spread,’ he explained.
Residents wait to be register their information before being vaccinated at the Royal Exhibition Building COVID-19 Vaccination Centre on May 28
Health workers prepare Pfizer vaccinations at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on Friday
Professor Collignon said the Victorian government was keener on lockdown than other state governments as it was following a strict elimination policy.
‘I personally don’t think that’s sustainable because you’ll get the virus reintroduced unless you don’t let anyone enter Australia which is almost impossible,’ he said.
‘It’s inevitable in my view we will have these spotfires but you have to have a system in place where the likelihood of spread is lower and if the virus does spread you can easily find the most important contacts.’
He pointed out that New South Wales had taken far more travellers through the hotel quarantine system but had not needed a broad lockdown like Victoria.
‘So far Victoria’s lockdown policy has caused a lot of pain and hardship but without a better end result than New South Wales has obtained with more risk in New South Wales because they take more returned travellers.
‘They need to find out what New South Wales has done and copy at least some of it,’ he said.
Seven million Victorians are being ordered to stay at home in a ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown. Pictured: A vaccination queue on Friday
Anti-lockdown Protesters (pictured on Thursday night) gathered at Flinders Street Station before storming the streets to spread their message, demanding Daniel Andrews is sacked
On the other hand, Professor Raina McIntyre of UNSW said the latest outbreak required a lockdown because it was caused by the highly contagious Indian variant known as B.1617, meaning ‘the stakes are higher’.
She told Daily Mail Australia: ‘The virus spreads when people have contact with each other.
‘When it is spreading in the community and you don’t know the full extent, a lockdown helps by greatly reducing the contact between people. Together with a mask mandate, this may be able to control the epidemic.’
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said his government backed the lockdown because of the large number of venues in Melbourne that have been visited by positive cases.
Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino has blamed South Australia for allowing patient zero to catch the virus in hotel quarantine in Adelaide and also the federal government for a slow vaccine rollout.
The state government is also demanding federal support for small businesses crippled by the lockdown, with Treasurer Tim Pallas locked in talks with federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
But professor Collignon said it was ‘disconcerting’ that Victoria had failed to enforce checking in to venues with QR codes.
‘I actually think at least until October, if you don’t have a QR code you don’t get in,’ he said.
‘If you’re in high-risk places like bars and pubs, you shouldn’t get in if you don’t scan the code.’
The Victorian government is under fire for failing to implement a universal QR check-in system, which helps contact tracers work out where positive cases have been.
A litany of failures by the Victorian government has contributed to the state’s fourth coronavirus lockdown, say opponents. Pictured: Testing on Friday
The Victoria Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien receives his COVID-19 vaccination from nurse Carly Underwood at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre
‘We have a number of locations where we just don’t think we have captured all the people who were in those venues. It is important to get hold of them,’ testing commander Jeroen Weimar admitted on Friday.
New South Wales has had a mandatory system in place since January and the ACT’s was up and running from March.
A Victorian government survey found that in April only 41 per cent of people checked in to restaurants and pubs in April.
James Newbury, Liberal MP for Brighton, slammed the government for the QR failure and the failure of the coronavirus hotline which crashed on Thursday, stopping residents from booking a vaccine appointment.
He told Daily Mail Australia: ‘Victoria is the only State in Australia to have been locked down four times, a total of 160 days and counting, all because our Labor Government isn’t up to the job of keeping us safe.
‘Victorians deserve lightening fast contact tracing, but instead, Labor has admitted it has fallen down. Even the central virus support hotline has collapsed.’
Mr Newbury said the lockdown had left small businesses scared on the brink of bankruptcy.
‘Labor’s broken government is breaking the State of Victoria,’ he said.
A government survey found that in April only 41 per cent of Victorians checked in to restaurants and pubs in April. Pictured: Drinkers enjoy a beverage before lockdown
Anti-lockdown protesters gather outside of the Victorian State Parliament in Melbourne on Thursday, hours ahead of the restrictions being imposed
On Thursday the state government admitted that it did not have enough contact tracers and even asked university students to work for Victoria’s Department of Health.
An email to students at the University of Melbourne’s School of Population and Global Health made an ‘urgent call-out for medical, nursing and allied health students to help with contact tracing’, The Australian reported.
Students were told they would be offered paid roles calling potentially infected residents and entering data – with the option of more work after the outbreak of the highly contagious Indian variant of the virus was under control.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said it was ‘absurd’ to blame contact tracers, insisting they ‘do not do magic.’
But Opposition leader Michael O’Brien dismissed this explanation, saying: ‘Victorians ask why we are the only state to have a fourth lockdown.
‘We ask why the government’s contact tracing hasn’t kept this outbreak confined.’
Liberal frontbencher Tim Smith said Victorians have lost confidence in the government.
‘There’s a nervousness here, our confidence is shot because this is the only state in this nation where this has happened four times,’ he told Sky News.
‘Hospitality owners are incredulous, incandescent with rage and utterly depressed.
‘This is fairly and squarely on the head of the state Treasurer Tim Pallas, the acting Premier James Merlino and Daniel Andrews.’
He pointed out that Gladys Berejlikan did not need to lockdown down all of New South Wales when the northern beaches suffered an outbreak because ‘she had faith in her contact tracing system.’
A queue for testing is pictured in Melbourne on Thursday. University students have been asked to put their hand up to work as contact tracers for Victoria’s Department of Health
Healthcare workers are seen at the Albert Park Covid-19 testing facility in Melbourne
NEW STAGE THREE RESTRICTIONS IN VICTORIA
An emergency seven-day lockdown will begin at 00.01 on Friday.
Under the strict new rules to stop Melbourne’s coronavirus cluster from getting out of control, there are a number of restrictions:
Stay-at-home order with just five reasons to leave the house:
– Shopping for necessary goods and services
– Going to work or permitted education
– Exercise with a two-hour limit
– Medical reasons and care giving
– Getting vaccinated
As well as this, there will be serious restrictions on people’s personal life, business, work and school:
– No visitors to your home other than an intimate partner. Single bubbles will be permitted. If you live alone, you can make a bubble with another person.
– 5km travel limit for exercise and shopping
– Compulsory masks indoors and outdoors unless in the home
– No public gatherings.
– Restaurants, pubs, and cafes can provide takeaway only.
– Essential retail, so supermarkets, food stores, petrol stations, banks, bottle shops and pharmacies, other retail stores can provide click and collect.
– Childcare and kinders will be open as per the last circuit breaker lockdown earlier this year.
– Approved professional sporting events will proceed but proceed without crowds.
– Schools will move to remote learning, except for vulnerable children, and children of authorised workers.
– Higher education will move to remote learning only.
– Community support and recreation, accommodation, but there will be some exemptions that apply.
– Hotels, clubs, TABs and the casino will be closed.
– Indoor and outdoor entertainment venues, swimming pools, spas, saunas, indoor and outdoor springs, community venues, drive in cinemas, amusements parks and arcades, creative studios, art galleries and museums, tourism, tours, and transport, and auctions can only happen online.
– Aged care facilities, no visitors except for limited reasons.
– In our hospitals, visitors only for end of life, to support a partner during birth, or a parent accompanying a child.
– In terms of ceremonies, funerals, a maximum of 10 people plus those running the service.
– Weddings cannot proceed unless end of life or deportation reasons apply.
– Religious activities will not proceed other than through broadcast with a maximum of five people.