Deputy Premier of Victoria James Merlino and the Minister for Multicultural Affairs Ros Spence held a multicultural media conference on Monday 7 September to discuss the government’s ‘road map’ out of lock down in Victoria.
Mr Merlino said that the decision to take much slower relaxing of restrictions was based on “extensive modelling” commissioned by the government and was “not a 50/50 decision.”
He added that the modelling commissioned from the University of Melbourne and the University of New England revealed that “if the rate of infection remains, even at 25 per day then there is a 60 percent change of going back into a third lockdown before Christmas”
Professor Catherine Bennett, the chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, wrote in The Age that the Victorian government’s decisions were “arbitrary.”
Professor Bennett did not question the efficacy of the data but said that the modelling does not “distinguish between those cases linked to known and contained clusters versus wider community transmission and in particular those “mystery cases” and questioned the “evidence… used to compile these.”
The modelling according to Professor Bennett did not use specific Victorian data of how the virus spreads through communities, or where “weak points are” so Victorians can map the way “out of this wave and avoid the next.”
“We don’t we don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing expert health advice that we receive,” Mr Merlino responded emphatically to the criticism.
“The unequivocal advice from the public health experts based on this modelling is that if we set a trigger point at 25 cases we’ve got a 60 per cent chance of going back into lock down towards the end of the year, and that’s something we do not want.”
“I want to assure you and the readers of Neos Kosmos, that Victorian specific inputs were put into that modelling and over 1000 simulations of various scenarios were developed,” Mr Merlino insisted.
Mr Merlino said that the government had “overwhelming support from the community” for its roadmap.
Neos Kosmos suggested that many readers were critical of the government’s slow exit from lockdown.
He acknowledged the “deep disappointment” and “deep frustration” in the community.
“This is incredibly hard, it’s hard for parents with school children, and the kids are learning remotely, it is extremely difficult for grandparents who are unable to see their grandkids and I think that’s reflected in some of the feedback that you’re getting.
“People want this over, you know I want this over, you want this over, we all want this over but when you look at jurisdictions around the world and around Australia it’s when you get the case numbers to a manageable level that you can ease restrictions we’re just not there yet,” added the Deputy Premier.
Minister for Multicultural Affairs Ros Spence was asked by SBS’ Turkish Radio about what could be done to lessen fear those in the Turkish community who have seen how COVID-19 tracking apps in Turkey have been used to crackdown on dissidents.
Ms Spence said that “the government is holding a series of community round tables” to engage fully with multicultural communities.
“The Premier advised you of the $14.3million that was announced and part of that funding was to set up the multicultural task force and one of the purposes of that task force is to respond fast,” said Ms Spence.
Chinese media asked Mr Merlino about what can be done for small ethnic business like those in Box Hill, Chinatown, Carlton, Oakleigh, where “all is dead”.
“If we get to 30 to 50 cases by the end of September we will be in a position, following deep engagement with industry, for a further 100,000 workers to go on site in various industries. “There’s also been around $10 billion of assistance from the state for businesses, workers and farmers, and we’re trying to be complimentary of the settings at a federal level,” Mr Merlino said.
Neos Kosmos asked if, as elected members of a liberal democracy, they still believed that under such draconian measures on freedom of movement if people still have the right to protest.
“At the moment it is not legal to do so,” said Mr Merlino
Pressed by pointing to protests in Berlin and the Deputy Premier was asked if he believed protests are still a tenant of democracy.
“Of course! But there’s the reality of a pandemic and that’s why parliament looks very different, there was a period when parliament couldn’t make it and it met last week in a very different way.
“You’ve got to acknowledge the reality of a pandemic that has swept the world in 2020 and some activities are just not safe.”
These decisions by the state government seem like an Odyssean journey through rough seas. The captain lurches between the monster of COVID-19 and the collapse of the state’s economy. Sadly, no decision will be easy nor met with unified agreement by the suffering citizens of Victoria.