Victorian “pivot” paves the way from blockade

Fortunately, Victoria has already curbed the spread of the virus, and in the absence of another major outbreak, the government will go through the remaining steps from the state’s three-month blockade for a “COVID normal” summer vacation. In time for.

Andrews said the steps to be taken on Sunday were “not as big as we wanted,” but he claims they were “important” and still under consideration. His words have shifted to acknowledging the social costs of ongoing blockades and the pain of ongoing restrictions on businesses and citizens. On Sundays, the 5 km rule may be abolished and the social gathering restrictions may be relaxed.

Professor James McCaw, an epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne and a member of Australia’s Chief Health Advisory Group, the National Cabinet’s Health Advisory Group, said the action would not be immediate.

“Up until now, I was worried that we were on an unrecognized path of exclusion, which is not wise and justified in my epidemiological view,” said Professor McCaw. I did. “Move towards a genuine aggressive restraint strategy … an incredibly welcome development.

“The sooner you start this process, the better. We have to do it slowly, we have to do it carefully, and the pressure in the system in a controlled way. You have to release it. If you wait a long time, it will explode. “

Epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakey said there was a clear “pivot” within the Department of Health and Human Services, saying that the modeling provided information on the government roadmap due to COVID restrictions.

Police confront protesters against the blockade at Chadstone Shopping Center, Melbourne’s largest recent Jeffers

“They are letting go of the chance to achieve exclusion,” he said. “We are actively suppressing it, where we are trying to lower the number. 10 is the new 5, which is basically the transition from removal to coexistence with the virus.

“People don’t use words like exclusion, so it must be confusing from the outside, but it’s very clear what’s going on.”

That change happened this week, with Andrews abandoning the stated 14-day average of less than 5 daily averages needed to move on to the next step in lifting restrictions and expecting less than 10 daily averages. It suggested that this might be unrealistic.

Most epidemiologists define exclusion as the absence of new COVID cases recorded for the viral life cycle (usually measured at 14 or 21 days). This milestone has been achieved in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, but it is not the goal of national cabinets aiming for zero community communication in all states and territories.

Professor Tony Blakely, an epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, says Victoria's response to public health is moving away from exclusion.

Professor Tony Blakely, an epidemiologist at the University of Melbourne, says Victoria’s response to public health is moving away from exclusion.

Andrews has repeatedly denied that Victoria has an exclusion strategy. The Andrews government confirmed in a document submitted to Congress over the weekend in support of the extension of Victoria’s state of emergency that its “aggressive oppression” action was in line with the state’s strategic goals.

By definition, a clear rethink of Victoria’s strategy should ease tensions with the federal government, which is concerned that Australia’s second-largest city is in a socially and economically devastating blockade. is.

It will also ease public dissatisfaction with having to withstand some of the world’s most stringent COVID restrictions when the recent daily number of cases is below that of New South Wales.

Professor McCaw said Victorian people were compliant with public health directives, which must remain in compliance with social distances and the use of masks.

“One of the most important things we need is for the Victorian community to maintain confidence in its leadership,” he said. “We have people who insist that the government remains trapped, at risk of losing community support, and there are people who insist on the complete mitigation of very dangerous measures. ..

“In the meantime, there is a safe and navigable path that I feel the government is heading for.”

On Wednesday, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said that the average rate of new infections in Victoria is now below the Australian Health Protection Commission’s definition of a COVID hotspot, and that the state is on the NSW to get out of the blockade. He said he had paved the way for him. Between July 18th and August 13th, New South Wales managed an average of 15 new cases per day without causing further epidemics. Melbourne’s 14-day average is currently 9.6.

Consensus between senior government officials and public health experts is that contact tracing in Victoria was overwhelmed during the height of the second wave of epidemics, but has improved significantly in the last two months to accommodate future outbreaks. You can trust to control it.

Relieve tensions: Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt.

Relieve tensions: Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Ellinghausen

Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said, “We should be more confident in our systems as they have been rebuilt and these systems have separated us from the need for strict blockades.” Said.

The Victorian roadmap released by the Andrews government on September 6 requires a state-wide 14-day average of 5 cases and an average of 0 cases to trigger the final step towards “normal COVID.” had. At that time, some senior epidemiologists said the target was unrealistic.

In the weeks that followed, the signposts along the roadmap changed frequently.

When the roadmap was first published, Professor McCaw said the case thresholds were unattainable and unnecessary. Since then, he has regularly reported to the Australian Health Protection Commission on progress towards the Victorian Conference.

There was a “short period” about three weeks ago when Victoria seemed to have a 50-50 chance of reaching its goal. These odds have drifted since the outbreak of Chadstone Shopping Center and have so far been associated with 43 cases, including 8 in Victoria.

Dr. Stephen Duckett, Health Economist at the Grattan Institute, said public malaise about COVID restrictions is increasing. “They have been going on for so long and people are getting tired of them,” he said. “One of the things to consider is a social license to do these things.”

He previously argued that neither the curfew nor the 5 km rule was evidence-based, but he said that focusing on case thresholds for roadmap purposes rather than dates was the correct approach. believe.

Professor Bennett said the public debate on lifting restrictions was unnecessarily polarized. In part, this reflects the government’s choice to formulate a debate on the risk of a third wave of infection.

She quoted Burnet’s Lab modeling commissioned by the government last month to simulate the risk of further epidemics if the Victorian era went straight from the stage 4 blockade to the lowest level of COVID restrictions.

Professor Catherine Bennett, Deakin University Epidemiology Director.

Professor Catherine Bennett, Deakin University Epidemiology Director. credit:Jason South

The government demanded modeling of this scenario, even though no one in the government was thinking of such a policy leap. The result was an epidemiological straumann. The risk of Victoria entering a devastating third wave was 41%.

“Why do you do that?” Said Professor Burnett.

“My biggest concern is polarization. You are completely weakening or completely blocking limits, where we are, and what we have in our system. Can’t find a midpoint trying to send a message to the government and the public about the confidence they should have.

“The only way to get people back in the middle and have a wise conversation that helps everyone go their own way is when people start to trust the information again.”

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Chipple Grand is the chief reporter for Age. He writes about crime, sports and national affairs, with a particular focus on Melbourne.

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