February 13, 2021.
I need to write this blog because in years to come I will read it and be amazed at the twists and turns of the politics of Covid-19. (After all it brought down the President of the United States).
So, here in Australia, 7 million Victorians are starting a ‘gold-standard’ 5-day total lockdown – till Wednesday, Feb 17. All borders are closed to Victoria except the NSW border.
Here are the facts as we know it. A returning Australian family (husband, wife and 3 mth year old baby) arrived into Melbourne on Feb 2 and went into quarantine in the airport Holiday Inn. The father is an asthmatic and became breathless with his condition. As required, he was tested before departure for Australia and when he arrived (negative). He says (insists) that he asked, and was told he could use his nebuliser to inhale the necessary Ventolin (Feb 3-4). Unbeknown to him nebulisers are NOT allowed because they create aerosols. The father was now positive, as was his wife, and through use of the nebuliser he passed the infection on to a worker in the hotel and another quarantined traveller who then left the hotel.
The spread was on.
Over 1,000 close contacts are now in isolation. But the authorities were in catch up (some sort of unexplained bureaucratic mix up). Before the contact tracers could get their act together (some confusion resulted in a delay), a ‘close contact’ had done a long shift at a café in Melbourne Airport and tested positive. Now they say over 1,000 ‘close’ contacts are in isolation and the Holiday Inn ‘cluster’ has grown to 14.
Today 20,000 tests were done in Victoria. 3,500 passengers passed through Melbourne Airport during the time the café worker was there and, unknown to her, infected. Now all states are ramping up testing. All other states face the possibility of having infected arrivals from Melbourne.
This sudden crack down in the huge city of Melbourne is particularly devastating. They had enduring a 112-day lockdown last year. They were just getting going. This weekend is:
- Chinese New Year
- Valentine’s Day
- Aussie Open in Melbourne (will continue – all matches are now without spectators). All ticket holders will be refunded.
Victorian cafes and restaurants said they had stocked up were fully booked. One restaurant owner said he would lose $40,000 as a result.
Daniel Andrews, ‘the seasoned Labor leader, unparalleled in his mastery of political spin, is again using the classic tactic of deflection to steer attention away from what appears to be yet another failure of quarantine protocol and inadequate processes by Victorian officials.’ (the Weekend Australian, 13 Feb. Simon Benson).
Andrews says he has to bring in this severe lockdown as the virus that has arrived is the new UK strain which he called ‘virulent’ and is 70% more infectious. But those facts are in doubt. Epidemiologist Catherine Bennett says that the UK strain is indeed more infectious (the original Wuhan strain – an infected person would pass on the infection to 11 percent of their close contacts – a person infected with the new UK strain would pass on the infections to 14.7 percent of their close contacts.) It is (only) 34% more infectious than the original strain.
Catherine Bennett says, when there are a very few cases, as in Melbourne, spread can be contained by contact tracing, testing and limited suppression strategies. This TOTAL lockdown that Andrews has brought in for infections in four households seems unnecessary. Catherine was quoted as saying, ’We could have put suppression in place to help prevent super-spreader events without closing down every business and putting the state into a full lockdown.’
Unless, of course, your political career depends on your NOT having another break-out on your watch.
Oh, BTW, we are booked to travel to the (miserable) state of Victoria for a 10-day holiday in 10 days time. This time I am not packing till the car is about to start. It’s not looking likely that we will go – none of us wants to be in quarantine on return. We had better start looking for somewhere to go in our own backyard, which after all is rather pleasant.