Victorians deserve the truth as lockdown returns

Premier Daniel Andrews is right to say that Victorians are well versed in the logistics of lockdown. Unfortunately, we have more experience than most in the types of harsh restrictions put in place to contain the COVID-19 virus. But that is not going to make it any easier.

Heading into lockdown is not just an exercise in following the rules, in staying within five kilometres of your home, or limiting your exercise. This is also an exercise in emotional resilience. For many last year, the toll on their mental health was a significant challenge. There would have been few who were not touched by it in some way.

Daniel Andrews announcing the short, sharp lockdown on Friday.Credit:Getty Images

When the streets and shopping precincts go quiet once again at midnight on Friday, looking after each other will be just as important as following the rules. It may only be for a few days, but it will be imperative once again that the most vulnerable are taken care of, and that we look out for our neighbours, family, friends and those in our local communities.

For many who thought the worst was behind us, this will be a shock. All the reassurances of a first-rate hotel quarantine and contact tracing system had lulled many of us into thinking lockdowns were behind us. With the rollout of vaccines only weeks away, the focus had increasingly been on recovery, not returning to restrictions.

Last time the finger of blame was easy to point. This time, it is not so clear. Has hotel quarantine fallen short once again, or is the hyper-infectious British variant of COVID-19 no longer able to be contained? What will be essential in maintaining public trust is the government’s ability to be fully transparent when explaining what has gone wrong.

People’s willingness to support the harsh restrictions will depend on the trust they have in the government’s ability to manage this crisis. The Age reports today two important stories. First, the man whose use of a nebuliser is suspected of sparking the outbreak in the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel, has rejected the government’s claims that he was clearly warned that such a device was banned because of the risk of aerosolised particles carrying coronavirus to be suspended in the air. The man, who has COVID-19 and is being treated in intensive care, says he was repeatedly given permission from Victorian health authorities to use the medical device while in quarantine.

A spokeswoman for the COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria agency said an investigation into the incident was conducted on February 5 and no record of the nebuliser being declared has been found, but there are still questions to answer.

The second story relates to suggestions that our contact tracing system – which failed last year before we entered weeks of stage four restrictions – may still be inadequate and that it had taken too long to contact people exposed to the virus. Victorians deserve to know if this is true.

Victorians understand that this is a hideous virus that is highly infectious. They do not expect perfection. But they do expect honesty. For even a five-day lockdown has consequences. Many businesses that had just got back on their feet will be hardest hit by the snap shutdown. The food and beverage industry, which would have been expecting a busy Valentine’s Day, must be devastated by the disruption.

After the long lockdowns over winter last year, there was always concern that it would be difficult to stay vigilant when things opened up during summer. Europe and America certainly learnt that lesson, and have paid a high price for it.

What is happening in Victoria is not equivalent. Hopefully, with a short sharp “circuit breaker” this outbreak can be contained. If managed properly, it should not be a repeat of last year. Victorians know what to do, and they have proven they can come together when it is most needed. That time has come again.

The Age encourages everyone to take care, stay safe, follow the rules and hopefully we can soon return to enjoying the freedoms that we all worked so hard last year to secure. And we demand that the state government be open about any shortcomings that remain in our supposedly gold-standard hotel quarantine and contact-tracing system.

Note from the Editor

The Age’s editor, Gay Alcorn, writes an exclusive newsletter for subscribers on the week’s most important stories and issues. Sign up here to receive it every Friday.

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