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Australia Victoria's snap lockdown is over but it comes at a political cost for Daniel Andrews

22:28  17 february  2021
22:28  17 february  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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Daniel Andrews wearing a suit and tie smiling at the camera: Daniel Andrews refuses to play politics over coronavirus, saying it © Provided by ABC News Daniel Andrews refuses to play politics over coronavirus, saying it "doesn't work against the virus". (ABC News: Barrie Pullen)

Victoria has survived its third lockdown. Cases are contained and restrictions have eased.

There has been untold economic damage and fresh concerns for the mental health of Victorians already doing it tough.

The snap lockdown was a last resort, the Premier says, but that does not necessarily mean it won't happen again if the virus gets out of control.

For some people, particularly small business owners, the "circuit-breaker" lockdown has been a doom and gloom trigger after the damage inflicted during last year's much longer lockdown.

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Worryingly, the number of people seeking mental health support and presenting to hospitals has been up this week.

The snap lockdown over relatively few cases can present a new challenge if the Premier has to take future tough action, with Andrews's social and political capital taking a hit over the past week.

Over the weekend, there was perhaps a different kind of despair than what people were expressing last year — Victorians who had been reluctantly supportive of last year's lockdown and backers of the Premier and the government's response began to waver.

As several Labor people have reasoned, the government will lose skin every time a lockdown happens.

And unlike last year, the reason for the lockdown was less obvious.

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There weren't hundreds of new cases every day. The Holiday Inn Cluster is only at 19 people.

"I think nearly 40,000 people coming up and getting tested because we have asked them to would indicate that the community knows and understands how significant this is,'' Andrews said on Wednesday.

"Constant criticism, political point-scoring, the loudest voices which I don't think speak for quite as many people as they say… signs, graffiti, it doesn't work against this virus."

For all the political hoopla, the lockdown did do what it was designed to by limiting the spread of the virus.

How did hotel quarantine fail again in Victoria?

A recent poll showed Australians overwhelmingly back incumbent federal and state governments to stay in power until the crisis is dealt with.

Only 12 per cent back a change of any government, according to the poll conducted of 2,461 people by the Redbridge group.

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That the lockdown was the result of another failure in hotel quarantine means there is a political element to this latest crisis.

There have been breaches and failures across Australian quarantine, leading to lockdowns and heavy restrictions in Sydney over Christmas as well as Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.

But given Victoria had a multi-million-dollar inquiry into its hotel quarantine failures last year which made dozens of recommendations to fix the system, many Victorians feel entitled to ask: How has this happened again? Have crucial lessons been learned?

Advice from two key expert taskforces made up of hospital CEOs and medical experts on infection control and PPE has either been ignored or not shared with hotel quarantine.

Instead, COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria — the agency responsible for hotel quarantine — is using its own panel of experts to advise on the matter.

There are also questions about why the hot hotels — which house confirmed COVID-19 patients — and cold hotels are being managed differently, given all returned travellers must be assumed to be COVID-positive while in their 14-day quarantine.

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Unanswered questions about the incident involving the nebuliser

The Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport — where this latest outbreak began — was a cold hotel.

Nurses and doctors with the right PPE last year joked that they felt safer by the bed of a COVID-positive patient than at the supermarket, showing their faith in PPE when it was done right.

So it is unsurprising that some experts were staggered last week to learn the N95 masks weren't being used at the Holiday Inn.

If they were in wider use, some experts believe the virus may have been much better contained.

And then there's The Nebuliser.

The he said-she said about whether guests were told not to use the devices has been going on for days.

The man at the centre of the Holiday Inn outbreak, who was admitted to an ICU with COVID-19, says he was told by officials he could use the device, which is believed to increase airborne spread of the virus.

The government is standing by its story: that there is "no evidence" that its teams were told the device had been brought into the quarantine hotel.

Questions about hotel quarantine in Victoria will persist, given the lockdown was caused by its failure.

Premier Daniel Andrews has promised to build a new quarantine hub at Melbourne or Avalon airport, though he gave no guarantee during question time on Wednesday that there would be an open tender process to design and build the new station. There was no tender for security in the ill-fated first version of hotel quarantine.

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A changing tune

Even before he announced the lockdown last Friday afternoon, the Premier seemed to be leaning into changing the narrative on hotel quarantine.

With new, more contagious strains, he argues, Australia needs to rethink the number of people it's allowing to come home.

Deciding who comes in and out of the country, Andrews points out, is not his job, it's the role of the Federal Government, which has let the states run quarantine for nearly 12 months.

The Premier is betting that most Victorians, and indeed Australians, would rather live with a reduced risk of the virus escaping than bringing Aussies home.

It's seen as a cold but calculated policy.

Andrews has also made his points about federal responsibility more overt.

During another marathon presser announcing the lockdown would end, he took the opportunity to wade into the debate about the speed of vaccine rollout in Australia.

"We've got one pallet of vaccines turned up. That's great news but we haven't got any in anyone's arms yet, that's a process," he said. "Some might see that as the moon landing. I think it's the start of the end.

"It is not the end of this pandemic."

Nor is it the end of the politics.

[Hearken embed]

Latest snapshot of the coronavirus impact .
The latest snapshot of COVID-19 cases, measures and impacts in Australia at 1800 AEDT on Saturday, February 13, 2021.* Victoria is in the midst of a five-day lockdown until 11.59pm Wednesday in an effort to contain an outbreak of the UK strain of coronavirus at Melbourne Airport's Holiday Inn.

usr: 3
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