Victoria: State of Despair
After months of on-and-off restrictions in Victoria, the state’s embattled Premier Daniel Andrews recently announced a six-week “Stage 4” lockdown.
Residents of Melbourne are now confined to their homes except to purchase essential supplies or for one hour of exercise per day, tasks which must be carried out between 5am-8pm after which fines of $1,652 are issued for being outside.
The rules are being enforced vigorously. In an extraordinary press conference on Monday, the state's police chief complained of "having" to "smash car windows" and "pull out" citizens for maintaining silence in the face of police questioning about their movements.
All but the most urgent elective surgeries have been cancelled. Grocery distribution centres have had their workforces cut by one third, the meat industry by two thirds. Supermarkets have introduced purchase caps to prevent stocks running dry.
The construction industry is on the verge of collapse. Small business owners and employees are wholly reliant on government hand-outs with no end in sight.
None of these measures were debated or voted for, the Premier deriving his powers from emergency legislation (as in Britain which I discuss here), having deemed Parliament a non-essential service.
One could be forgiven for thinking Covid-19 has hit Victoria with the same force as the Black Plague in Europe during the Middle Ages. Yet the state has recorded just 162 deaths from the disease to date, 85 per cent of which occurred in aged care homes.
Just 42 intensive care beds of around 1,500 are in use in the state. Ensuring adequate facilities are available is clearly no longer the Premier's aim. His aim now is, though he has never squarely stated it, to prevent any and all deaths from Covid-19.
That would all be very well if it could be achieved through a six-week lockdown. But what does Mr. Andrews suppose will be different in September except a poorer and more degraded population?
There is no vaccine. The idea that the virus will float away is a proposition of faith not science.
In Sweden, a country much maligned for “experimenting” with liberal democracy amid global panic, deaths are now at one or two per day. The population held its nerve. The virus came and went and life is resuming as normal.
It now appears that many are immune to infection of Covid-19 through T-cells and other defence mechanisms and that the virus contributes to between 500-1000 deaths per million inhabitants before burning out.
Herd immunity is not an ideal outcome. But it causes far fewer deaths than was initially feared, and in any case is the only one that appears possible.
Some lives will be lost due or (in most cases) partially due to Covid-19 in Victoria. That is an unfortunate fact. But it is a fact. The question is how the state’s leader should respond. So far this has been to stoke fears and arrogate extraordinary powers to himself.
Such tactics are generally not looked upon favourably in hindsight. One doubts things will be different this time.