Covid Victoria: Premier faces tense grilling over major lockdown delay
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has faced an intense grilling over his decision to delay the reopening of Melbourne due to the results of at least 1000 coronavirus tests being unknown.
Melbourne businesses had been preparing to open up as soon as Tuesday evening, but Mr Andrews said on Sunday this step would likely be off the table until the test results were confirmed.
In a heated media conference, the premier was accused of misleading the public and “dangling a carrot” only to then produce a stick.
Former Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos tweeted on Sunday morning the risk of an unmanageable outbreak as a result of positive cases in unknown test-takers was low.
“[Victoria] has met the under 5 threshold which some thought was unachievable. This was a very cautious target. 6/7 of new cases are related to a known outbreak so the risk is manageable,” her tweet read.
“The set reopening is gradual & safe so any delay is unnecessary. It’s paralysis in decision-making.”
Reporters raised Ms Mikakos’ stance with Mr Andrews during the media conference, questioning whether she had a point and if his “cautious pause” was in fact justified.
While he acknowledged his former colleague was entitled to her opinion, he maintained that up to 48 hours was required to ascertain if the 1000 test results posed a threat to the wider community.
“We know that there are 11 households and still some clusters within the broader outbreak where the linkage between the households is not known,” Mr Andrews said.
He said he was confident in the state’s capacity to maintain a possible outbreak, but was not prepared to make any decisions prior to receiving the large number of test results.
“I am not confident about the cases whose test results are yet to come back. We cannot contain what we are yet to identify.
“So there are some results to come through in the next 48 hours at which point those individuals, if there are some and I am sure there will be a few, can isolate, and their close contacts and secondary contacts can.”
‘Why didn’t you say that an hour ago?’
Mr Andrews was criticised by one reporter after he gave a clear statement, an hour into the conference, on the real possibility that Melbourne could still reopen on November 1.
“November 1, absolutely, still well and truly on track to be able to be opening up then. We had intended to be able to make announcements today, but it's just not appropriate while we wait for these test results, to be assuming we know what the results are,” he said.
The reporter in question then suggested to Mr Andrews he could have explained that point earlier in the morning.
“Why didn't you say that an hour ago as directly as that?” the reporter said.
Vic has met the under 5 threshold which some thought was unachievable. This was a very cautious target. 6/7 of new cases are related to a known outbreak so the risk is manageable. The set reopening is gradual & safe so any delay is unnecessary. It’s paralysis in decision-making.
— Jenny Mikakos #StayHomeSaveLives (@JennyMikakos) October 24, 2020
Mr Andrews apologised and explained it was not his intention to be anything less than 100 per cent clear, saying he had a “very long night and a very early morning”.
Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton was also faced with intense scrutiny on Sunday.
Responding to one journalist who asked if he felt “awkward” about a group of health professionals criticising the state’s decision to delay its reopening, Dr Sutton said it was irrelevant commentary as they were not in the Victorian “tent”.
Dr Sutton said the people in his “tent” were of a “united view”, despite it being frustrating, that it was appropriate to wait at least 24 hours to make any further decisions.
He was also quizzed on why he had maintained Victoria was “still on track” despite it already reaching its target to reopen.
“We are on track in terms of the average daily cases. Mystery cases are still above the target that was in the initial roadmap stop we haven't had that, but I think we are on track to hit that, I think we will hit that in the next few days,” Dr Sutton said.
“And this week, I am not so concerned, there are a few of those mystery cases I think are likely to be true cases, and there are a number of mystery cases in the dropping off over the next couple of days.”
The state recorded seven new cases on Sunday and no deaths, dropping Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average below five.
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