Australia

Extreme lockdown: Victoria’s next move

Victorian authorities have imposed some of the toughest restrictions in the world on residents living in Melbourne but an expert has warned worse could be in store if the current stage 4 restrictions don’t work.

In releasing a list of industries that would be forced to close, Premier Daniel Andrews caused confusion yesterday when he referred to the possibility of stage 5 restrictions.

On Sunday, Mr Andrews announced stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne that prohibit people from leaving their homes unless it’s for one-hour of exercise a day. One person in the household is allowed to do grocery shopping.

Retail, some manufacturing and administration businesses will be forced to close while supermarkets, grocery stores, bottle shops and pharmacies are among the businesses allowed to keep operating.

Mr Andrews said if these coronavirus restrictions could get infections under control then they would not have to countenance even further action.

“The damage from which would be altogether, well, it would be in another category, it would go even beyond this because it wouldn’t just be changing how the economy works, it will be changing very much the way we live our lives even further,” he told reporters.

Reporters noted that the Premier’s media release mentioned stage 5 but when he was asked to explain this he said: “The reason stage five is mentioned is because there is no stage five. It doesn’t work.

“Otherwise, we will have to develop a set of rules that will even further limit people’s movement. I don’t want to get to a situation where we’ve got to take those steps,” he said.

Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton further added to the confusion when he was asked about it.

“We’re not thinking about a Stage 5,” he said. “We’re thinking about a successful Stage 4. We know it can work. But it does require – and this is what talking about a Stage 5 is – it does require everyone’s co-operation.”

Of course one reporter then asked the obvious question: “Why was it mentioned?”

Prof Sutton responded: “Well it mentions it because it’s saying that the alternative is inconceivable. We need everyone to do what’s required now in order to get to where we want

to be.”

Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely told news.com.au he didn’t think there was a stage 5, at least not that he knew of, but he did think authorities could further tweak current restrictions.

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Further tightening could include:

• Closing all construction

• Further narrowing the definition of essential workers

• Closing bottle shops

• Shutting bakeries

• All takeaways shut

• Restricting shopping to once a week, not once a day

• Residents not allowed outside for one-hour of exercise

• Road blocks at all exits from metropolitan Melbourne

• Hard regional grid lockdown

• Random road blocks between suburbs

• Shut down all taxis, with only skeletal public transport available

• Compulsory mask wearing in homes.

But Prof Blakely said he didn’t think measures such as forcing people to wear masks in their homes would be likely even though it would probably help to bring down infections.

“These measures would provide marginal gains and may see the rates come down a few percentage rates faster, although it’s unclear as I haven’t modelled it yet,” he said.

“Those are the only places left to go and I don’t think they will have a huge impact.”

ENFORCEMENT CRUCIAL TO STAGE 4

Prof Blakely believes that the current stage 4 restrictions will work to bring cases down but enforcement of the rules is crucial.

“I am confident, we saw it work in Spain, Italy and the UK. It will work as long as we’ve got enforcement. If there are breaches then that’s a different matter but there is simple mathematics to this.”

He believes the next question is how long does Melbourne have to be in stage 4 lockdown in order to achieve the goal of “no community transmission”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said Australia is aiming for “no community transmission”, which is when there are no new cases without a known source identified for 28 days.

At this stage it’s unclear whether Victoria will still be able to achieve this, but Prof Blakely believes experts will have a better idea in about three weeks when the impact of the stage 4 restrictions is known and can be modelled.

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Melbourne’s restrictions are now among the most strict in the world but Prof Blakely said it was crucial that residents followed the rules as otherwise this could see the lockdown further extended.

“Do this well, don’t muck around. For anyone breaking the rules there should be warnings for the first week then the full rate of penalties after,” he said.

“A week ago there were so many examples of people not being at home when they should be in isolation.”

He said it was human nature for people to believe they wouldn’t be the ones to get sick.

“It’s very common psychology and for those who have had the virus, once their symptoms are gone, they may think, ‘Why should I stay in isolation for another 10 days?’

“But we know that you can still be transmitting the virus even when you don’t have symptoms.

“Yes it’s a pain but given where we are it’s utterly critical that everyone abides by the rules.”

He said this applied equally for businesses that may naturally look for loopholes in rules.

“The idea of looking for loopholes, that has to go both at an individual and business level.”

Prof Blakely said the availability of JobKeeper, JobSeeker and now the pandemic payment were in place to help people get through.

“It’s going to be tough but if we muck around now it’s just going to go on and on,” he said.

“We just have to do this well and that will maximise our chances of elimination as well as reducing the time we have to spend in hard lockdown.

“No matter what camp you are in, the message is the same, go hard and obey the rules.”

charis.chang@news.com.au | @charischang2

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