Friday, June 18, 2021

Will Covid restrictions stay till Christmas in Victoria?

Victorians have made great progress in reducing the rate of COVID-19 infections from the second wave outbreak in Victoria.

While the Commonwealth Government welcomes Victoria’s commitment to the national framework agreed at National Cabinet to have Australia open by Christmas, for many Victorian businesses and their workers today’s announcement will mean they will simply not be able to make it.

The new Framework to reopen by Christmas is a clear and transparent, three step plan which provides the Australian community and businesses with a way forward where Australians can live and work in a COVID Normal Australia, ensuring that we maintain strong health protections and minimise job losses and mental health impacts.

Victorians are to be congratulated for meeting and beating the considerable benchmarks that were set by their State Government before restrictions could be eased. They have played their part and sacrificed much in the pursuit of reaching those targets in the belief restrictions would be eased.

Under the Victorian Stage 4 lockdown, Victoria has seen the devastation of more than 1,000 job losses per day. We have also agonisingly witnessed a 31 per cent increase in Medicare funded mental health presentations in Victoria during the lockdown and significant increases in other mental health services.

At some point, you have to move forward and put your public health systems to work in a bid to reclaim the jobs that have been lost, and rescue the livelihoods and peace of mind of so many Victorians who have been affected by the inability to contain the outbreak that led to the second Victorian wave.

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Victoria’s public health systems are either up to the task of dealing with future outbreaks or they are not. The decision to keep businesses closed suggests that there is still not sufficient confidence within the Government that their systems can support reopening.

This is a profound disappointment. Of course, Victorians do not want to face another lockdown and of course they don’t want all of this to have been for nothing. That is why ensuring the State Government’s capability to deal with outbreaks through their public health response is so essential. This is what you need for Victoria to open up safely and stay safely open.

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Borders and closures are not indicators of public health success. They are the opposite.

Victoria’s infection rate is now below the Victorian Government’s own target of a 14 day rolling average of fewer than 5 cases per day to further reduce restrictions. It is also well below the Commonwealth’s hot spot definition, based on the advice of the acting Chief Medical Officer, of a rolling average of fewer than 10 cases per day over 3 days.

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During this time, the Victorian Government has greatly benefitted from the cooperation of the Victorian public and business community who have paid a significant price as a result of the prolonged lockdown measures.

The Commonwealth Government has also provided significant assistance from the ADF, medical and technical experts with the management of the lockdown and boosting Victoria’s contact tracing systems.

The Victorian Government has stated that they have now significantly improved their contact tracing capabilities to deal with any future outbreaks. Such capacity has been critical to enabling NSW to deal with numerous outbreaks, whilst staying open.

If this is the case, then we strongly encourage the Victorian Government to rapidly take the next steps to implement the National Framework and mirror the NSW COVID Safe restrictions for the sake of health, mental health and halting the loss of more than 1,000 jobs per day.

The Australian Government will continue to support Victorians through this crisis through our record economic and income supports. We will also continue to work with the Victorian Government to assist them to strengthen their public health and contact tracing capacity.

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