There was great anticipation when Victorians tuned in to hear the state government’s road map that would reward their patience and sacrifice throughout the second COVID-19 wave. But for many, there was much disappointment and anger that an underwhelming plan offered an extension of pain rather than hope.
Lockdown bites: An empty Flinders Lane.Credit:Getty
The hopes and dreams of many who looked to New South Wales and its successful opening in June were dashed. The road map imposed a bar much higher in Victoria than that of our neighbours. At the time of writing, NSW is sitting on 109 new cases this fortnight with 13 from an unknown source. Based on Victoria’s road map, NSW would be only at step one, with virtually the same restrictions we have now.
So why the disparity with NSW? Or is there something else at play? Does such a high bar in Victoria have something to do with the state government’s lack of confidence in its contact tracing capability? Given the government has finally asked NSW to provide contact tracing expertise and information, it looks like it. But there’s also another factor – the modelling.
Is the Victorian government using different modelling parameters and assumptions than NSW? If so, why? We don’t know, and the only answer we can get is that Victorian modelling is “so” complex and that Victoria is different.
People are battle weary. So many are facing mental health challenges, have lost their livelihoods, their jobs and businesses. And many are hanging on by their fingernails. So when there’s a dissonance between our freedoms and those of our neighbours, and we can’t get logical answers as to why, people feel let down. It’s a big deal for those facing a personal crisis.
People are readily able to grasp and understand risk. We apply it when crossing roads, out driving and at home. People know why we wear masks, use hand sanitiser and keep socially distant because it has been explained and makes sense. People can also easily digest straightforward data that gives a basis for a decision.
Fitness Australia collected data in NSW, since their June reopening, and found that in more than 7 million visits to more than 500 gyms, there hasn’t been one confirmed COVID-19 community transmission case to date. That’s data people can get their head around. And when decisions are made based on that data, people get it. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and when explained in a way people understand, it builds trust and confidence; something that is in short supply since the hotel quarantine debacle.
Data also shows that our health workforce and their close contacts make up the majority of daily case numbers. So why are all Victorians subject to standardised restrictions and curfew when that’s clearly not where the bulk of the risk exists?
Our provisional October 26 work restrictions state that weddings can have 10 people including the couple, witnesses and the celebrant, but a funeral can have 20. Weddings are often outside, which is safer, but funerals are nearly always inside which the government tells us is less safe. So how is this based on risk? And with weddings having a massive supply chain, that includes sole traders with little or no government support, many are on their knees.
The difficulty with the road map is that it demands blind trust, yet we have no idea what data drove which decision. And until then, we are unable to grasp why many things aren’t permitted here, yet are in NSW.
While the focus has been on the case data, we have heard little of another critical data set – job losses, business closures, financial hardship and mental health. These are all measures of the personal, social and financial cost.
When this data is not analysed side by side with COVID-19 case data, the government makes unbalanced decisions that have not factored in other critical life and death considerations. Decisions that don’t provide for a nuanced road map, developed through a risk management lens. The road map should balance competing risks to life and livelihoods and draw on Australian and international data. Data that informs and educates and gives hope while plotting a path to an open COVID-safe Victoria.
Dee Ryall is a risk and governance specialist and former Liberal state member of parliament.
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