from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: has the horse bolted?

The weekend Australian December 19-20

Tomorrow at 9.55am, we should have been aboard an early flight to Sydney with luggage filled with Christmas presents and our beach clothes for our 9 nights at the coast north of Sydney.

Today, we postponed our departure for two days. Sydney is partly in crisis over an outbreak of Covid-19 on the ‘Northern Beaches’, an area along the coast north of the harbour from Bondi to Palm Beach – 21 beaches and their suburbs extending a long way inland. This area has been declared a ‘hotspot’ by all other states and territories.

Once more it is partly a case of poor management. You would have thought that councils, states and governments would learn from one another, would have their antennae alert to the mistakes and successes of other jurisdictions, other countries. Not so. Premier Daniel Andrews of Victoria state made a few blatant well chronicled mistakes but he did not stand down. Now it’s the Premier of NSW, Gladys Berejiklian’s turn to admit they have made another mistake (not an acknowledged mistake – they are merely changing their ways. A major error was the handling of the docking and disembarkation of the passengers from the cruise ship, ‘Ruby Princess’ in March).

Until now, crews from international flights have been required to self-isolate either in hotels or private homes for 14 days or until they left on their next flight. More than one hundred international flights have been arriving into Sydney Airport per week. This comes as there has been great pressure on the Australian government to facilitate the repatriation of Australians ‘stuck’ overseas.

Often its not what they did, but what they did not do. Crew members have been seen wandering around Sydney. From next Tuesday, airline crew will be taken to two designated hotels near the airport and the hotels will be monitored by the police. Don’t move out of your hotel room! No more taking in the sights of our marvellous harbour city!

What was the source of this outbreak, this new cluster?

They don’t know. However, a Sydney Ground Transport bus driver who transports international flight crews tested positive this week but he is not regarded as the source of the new outbreak.

Could the source be one of those airline crews who has since returned overseas? This is possible. NSW Health are doing extensive genomic testing and announced that they believe that the strain is from the USA. But ‘patient zero’ has not been located.

We cannot stay isolated from the rest of the world for ever but it is apparent that a sprinkling of international passengers are carrying the virus and it does not take much of a slip up in the process of their quarantine for an outbreak to occur.

What is obvious is that our tracing abilities of contacts have improved no end. Every few hours various locations and transportation routes are announced on the NSW Covid-19 site to alert the public to the fact that a positive case was there at the time indicated. In an attempt to restrict the spread to the Northern Beaches, all residents have been asked to stay at home as much as possible for 3 days. QR codes have been used in NSW since November 22. There are hour long queues at the new testing sites across Sydney. So there is hope with such improved processes.

I told my daughter in Seattle, USA, about the outbreak.

‘How many cases?’ she said.

’28,’ I said.

’28!!’ she laughed. ‘Overnight in Washington State we have had almost 900 new cases.’

(Population of greater Sydney is 5.3 million, Washington State, USA, is 7.6 million)

So, we must put our outbreak into perspective. However, we have all learnt this year that it takes only one busy, undetected, infected person in a city for the virus to totally escape. Our Australian state premiers and our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, have learnt that its necessary to overreact to outbreaks. We don’t want to get complacent when vaccines are just over the horizon.

from Anne in Adelaide, South Australia: Sorry, but I don’t know either!

September 27.

Johannes Leak cartoon. The Australian 26-27 September, 2020

In late May and early June, our neighbouring state of Victoria was hit by a second wave of community infections of Covid-19. The numbers exploded rapidly, reaching over 700 a day as the authorities failed to track, trace and test to halt the spread. People started asking questions. How did this happen; where is the virus coming from? Soon it was fairly obvious: the hotel quarantine system for returning travellers had failed.

Cases continued to spread. On August 2, a state of ‘disaster’ with Stage 4 restrictions on Melbourne and Stage 3 on the rest of the state, was declared.

All other states closed their borders to Victoria. By then the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, had fielded questions about how his government had failed in their management of the quarantine process. He said he would appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the outbreak but since he was so busy handling the crisis, he would not comment further. So, the state and the country had to wait until September to listen to the Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

final witness – Daniel Andrews

September 26-27. After 25 days of hearings, 62 witnesses and 200,000 pages of documents, a 3 million dollar inquiry has not had the main question answered: who was responsible for appointing private security firms to manage the hotel quarantine of overseas travellers instead of the (more reliable and experienced) Federal police who had been offered by the Federal Government (these police had been appointed in other states)? The private firms had been hopeless in their job. They had subcontracted to untrained and underpaid workers. Lurid tales of security staff relaxing on the job, smoking breaks, shopping outings and co-habiting with the travellers, emerged.

“Some guards are saying they had no training,” Shah said. “Some were saying they had three minutes’ training.” (Kazim Shah, a United Workers Union organiser).

The quarantine system had failed with lethal results. Where was the culprit? Where was the failure?

Quotes attributable to the Premier Daniel Andrews on the occasion of appointing a Royal Commission. July 2, 2020, “It is abundantly clear that what has gone on here is completely unacceptable and we need to know exactly what has happened.”

https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/judicial-inquiry-hotel-quarantine-program

“The inquiry will begin promptly and will examine a range of matters including:  decisions and actions of government agencies, hotel operators and private contractors; communication between government agencies, hotel operators and private contractors; contractual arrangements; information, guidance, training and equipment provided to staff in hotels; policies, protocols and procedures.”

This weekend our newspapers tell the story. And what a debacle it is: no one is owning up. No one made the wrong decision – it just appears to have happened, willy nilly!! Be amazed! An immaculate conception-decision had emerged with no record, no minutes, no one there! Premier Daniel Andrews was the last to give evidence and yesterday he was full of ‘don’t knows’.

Everyone was waiting for Premier Andrews to appear. He was the last government minister, the final witness, before the commission. He held up the bible, swore to tell the truth – but it turns out – he did not know how or who made the decision to hire private security firms.

He said, ‘I want to say to you, Madam Chair, I await your final report, the conclusion of your work, so we can understand better what has occurred, So, I as leader of government can take appropriate action to ensure these sorts of errors never occur again.’ The Australian September 26-27.

A Monty Python moment – but remember, this is not a joke, 762 people died in the outbreak, 18,000 were infected. Only one minister has resigned – the health minister, Jenny Mikakos. Andrews blamed her, saying she was accountable. Mikakos has sworn before the commission that she did not even KNOW that private guards were being used.

Andrews is not resigning – he says he has work to do!

I will be amazed if processes change in the corridors of political power. Do Royal Commission findings and recommendations result in changes?

If my little Adelaide writing group meetings keeps minutes, why are the major decisions of the Victorian State government not likewise recorded? Nine ministers, PM Secretaries, Commissioners and Health Officers had no clue how this disastrous decision was made. Collective amnesia!

I don’t know, either! The mystery decision!

The editorial puts it succinctly, ‘Be it collective gross incompetence or a cover-up …Victorians have been treated with contempt by the government they voted in and pay …’