The Victorian lockdown is not just about health and lives!

Recently we have had Peter Singer, WHO envoys and Chris Uhlmann seemingly critical of the Covid-19 lockdown in Victoria. However, have they failed to recognise the significance of Victoria not being a country but one of eight states and territories?

Victoria had two problems to solve with its second wave. First, all the health consequences of the severe outbreak in June. Second, rejection by the rest of Australia. Strong lockdown measures would solve the first, and hopefully solve the second.

Victoria no longer has a Covid-19 health problem

With the infection rate dropping dramatically, the lockdown has become less about overwhelmed health systems and people dying from the virus. Instead it is now largely about Victoria being able to re-join the rest of Australia. Yes, there are significant negative impacts on people’s health and lives in other ways due to the lockdown, but there are also significant impacts when Victorians can’t visit other states and when residents of other states shun Victoria.

Six of our states and territories and New Zealand can be considered to have reached community elimination status. Their lifestyles and health systems, if not their economies, have returned to close to normal. It is understandable that they will not give up their gains. Thus, there is the pressure on Victoria and New South Wales to achieve zero-case status too.

Note the stance taken by the Queensland Premier against opening up to NSW (not to mention Victoria), requiring 28 consecutive days of zero community cases. And in recent days the WA Premier has apparently insisted on 28 consecutive zero-case days across the nation, saying, according to the ABC, that opening to some states and not others would be unconstitutional.

At time of writing in mid-October, Queensland has almost reached its own benchmark of 28 days with no locally acquired cases. New Zealand has conquered the Auckland outbreak, with no locally acquired cases for more than 12 days. In the two months from August 15, the number of active cases in NSW has dropped from 310 to just 40, and Victoria from 7,875 to 182.

The following tables show that Australia and Victoria do not currently have a Covid-19 health crisis.

COVID-19 active cases by jurisdiction on 14 October, 2020

Source: https://www.covid19data.com.au/

​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​

Active cases Days with
no active cases
Days with
no new cases
Days with no
locally-acquired cases
Estimated average daily
locally- acquired cases
Total Deaths In hospital

(in ICU)

NSW 40 0 0 0 Less than 10 53 4 (1)
VIC 182 0 0 0 Less than 10 816

(7 in last week)

23 (0)
QLD 2 0 4 24 0 6 1 (0)
SA 4 0 0 69 0 4 0
WA 18 0 0 157 0 9 1 (0)
TAS 0 43 64 152 0 13 0
NT 0 61 74 193 0 3 0
ACT 0 75 96 97 0 0 0
Australia 246 0 0 0 904 29 (1)
NZ 40 0 0 12 0 25 0

Here are comparisons with some other countries.

COVID-19 active cases by country on 14 October, 2020

Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/

​ ​

Country Active Cases Serious Critical (ICU)
United States of America 2,642,953 15,079
India 826,845 8,944
United Kingdom N/A (634,920 total cases to date) 507
Italy 87,193 514
Germany 46,839 618
Canada 19,741 172
Denmark 5,202 19
Australia 246 1
New Zealand 40 0
Taiwan 34 0

But Victoria is closed to other states and territories

By any standard, there is no longer a Covid-19 problem in Australia. With vigilant quarantining of international arrivals, this position should be maintainable.

The lockdown has been challenging for Victorians, to say the least. NSW has not taken Victoria’s hard line, not even making masks compulsory. Neither might achieve zero-case status. However, reports suggest that with fewer than 10 locally acquired cases per day, contact tracing in both states is expected to be able to manage spasmodic outbreaks until a vaccine arrives.

Thus, the problem remaining for Australia is not a coronavirus health crisis, but closed state borders. The successful jurisdictions have made hard decisions too and cannot be expected to risk their Covid-free status because the two most populous states haven’t quite got there.

The federal Minister for Health has confirmed that by reaching the national standard of a rolling 14-day average of fewer than 10 cases per day, Victoria no longer qualifies as a hotspot. Perhaps all other jurisdictions will agree to his definition and open up for nationwide travel to return.

At the moment, though, we have to assume that Victoria and NSW must reach the holy grail of zero-case status. As the numbers approach tantalisingly close to zero, it should be achievable.

Could we soon have a country where no one has to worry about catching Covid-19?

So what about Singer, the WHO and Uhlmann?

The WHO stance on lockdowns has been clarified, but Singer and Uhlmann seem to be saying that the lockdown in Victoria was too harsh and unnecessary, that the impact on mental health, other diseases and illnesses and on jobs and businesses was not worth it.

But Victoria didn’t have a choice. Given the catastrophe of hotel quarantining in Melbourne, could it have allowed the virus to take its course with minimal intervention? Would the rest of Australia – or Victorians – have stood by and watched as more and more people succumbed to Covid-19, even though there may have been fewer deaths from other causes and Victorians could still eat at their favourite restaurants?

Singer infers that even if lockdowns do save lives from Covid-19, that isn’t sufficient to show that it is the right path for a government to take if the harms exceed the benefits.

Perhaps less harm might have been caused without lockdown in Victoria. However, we would be an isolated community within our own country.

Uhlmann also seems to be saying the Victorian lockdown was unnecessary and extreme. And he seems to criticise other jurisdictions for closing their borders. He wrote: “But, when pressed, some premiers proved they have little regard for the idea of Australia. This is deeply disturbing… If a state premier’s success is measured by a low disease count and high approval ratings, then most did well.”

And: “It is simply ludicrous that the borders in the European Union are open when Australia’s internal borders are shut.”

Yet it is not ludicrous at all. Australian states can easily and effectively close their borders; European countries with their 550 million people can’t, though many tried. If Australia as a country can shut out the rest of the world to keep us healthy, or if a family can close the door on their house for their own safety, surely a state leader can do the same if it is in the interests of the citizens for whom they have responsibility. The evidence is that those states are still in relatively good economic shape, with close to normal lifestyles and leaders with strong support.

In terms of border communities, we only have Albury-Wodonga and Gold Coast-Tweed Heads as the two major ones to deal with, and in the next pandemic they will be managed better.

And as I write, there is Covid-19 mayhem in Europe:

  • “French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a night-time [9pm-6am] curfew in Paris and eight other cities.”
  • “People in parts of the UK with high rates of Covid-19 will be banned from travelling to Wales.”
  • “European nations are closing schools, cancelling operations and enlisting legions of student medics … With new cases hitting about 100,000 a day, Europe has by a wide margin overtaken the United States, where more than 51,000 COVID-19 infections are reported on average every day.”

Perhaps members of the EU have been taking note of Victoria’s lockdown success!

From Sunday 18 October, Daniel Andrews will gradually relax lockdown restrictions so that Victorians can more easily work and move around Melbourne and the state, albeit with masks and sensible social distancing.

Let’s hope all our states and territories reach a point where all borders open soon so we can move around our country too, with sensible precautions in place.

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Robin Boyle lectured in statistics at Deakin University and preceding institutes for three decades until 2009. His academic background in mathematics, economics and finance, as well as statistics, led him to developing teaching software in those areas and to be widely sought after as a textbook author.

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