The Australian government has been rather slow in preparing for the looming epidemic–lax almost–compared to New Zealand, which has adopted a strategy of a month long suppression/lockdown in response to its modelling. A classic example of Australia’s complacency was to allow the Ruby Princess to dock in Sydney without NSW Health health checking the passengers. Apparently the passengers on the cruise ship were also not given instructions to self-isolate when they disembarked. This failure in the test/trace/isolate regime, which means an aggressive contact tracing followup , is an indication that Australia squandered its head start in managing the outbreak.
This was a disaster in terms of containment. Different clusters of clusters of infections have resulted from people testing positive to Covid-19, from passengers who had returned to their towns from the Ruby Princess cruise ship. Overall, the government responses in the early days of the crisis has been too slow, uncoordinated and timid with the messages being confusing, inconsistent and conflicting. It appears that the government had known what was coming, but it has just been unable or unwilling to prepare for the medical dark. Perhaps the policy is to let the virus run through the population to ensure herd immunity to protect the economy?
The federal government’s current approach is a staged approach –incremental piecemeal closures to slow transmission to a manageable level so that hospitals don’t get overwhelmed. is this also a deliberate choice to minimise economic disruption over saving lives and to keep the economy turning over? In practice this gradualist policy of flattening the curve to achieve herd immunity is a painfully slow practice of eking out progressively tougher restrictions on a daily basis. In contrast, Victoria, NSW and Federal Labor are advocates for, and are increasingly moving towards, deciding to increase the levels of lockdown to try to prevent their health system from being overwhelmed.
However, it is unclear what this stage 4 actually means. Is it asking households to self-isolate for 14 days and focusing on scaling up to the mass testing, tracing and isolating that are integral to breaking chains of transmission. Meanwhile patient numbers continue to increase as we follow Italy’s path. That means a massive rise in patients dying.
The 14 days of self-isolation will be relative easy for us compared to people who are living in small apartments in a capital city. We were able to order food on-line from Woolworths and it is delivered to our front door. Self-distancing will be easy as friends are shopping for us, and we can easily walk the poodles away from other people and not enter any buildings when we do so. Most of the houses around us are holiday houses, and we are lucky that our NBN broadband is cable to the premises.
Containment and lockdown does raise the classical liberal dilemma: pitting individual rights to free movement and privacy against the wellbeing of the community. Given the scale and severity of COVID-19, it is currently the right choice to prioritise community health and safety over individual rights.