It would be fair to say that virtually none of the Premiers have had a good pandemic. Daniel Andrews, short of declaring himself King of Scotland, has otherwise done the full Idi Amin. Annastacia Pałaszczuk has decided that the best way to deal with a crisis is to send bitchy schoolgirl texts about her New South Wales counterpart, while over in the West Mark McGowan has overturned 120 years of tradition and made Labor the party of seccession. Only Gladys Berejiklian has done a competent enough job — and that was after a bad start with the Ruby Princess.
But with Christmas just around the corner, the turkey has arrived: South Australia’s Steven Marshall. As befits a state with no real claims to fame for the past 50 years other than a premier who once wore pink walk shorts, the Liberal leader has presided over an utter farce.
A bit of back story. Since 1970, the SA Liberals have only spent 16 years in power. They governed from 1979 until 1982, won a record majority in 1993, turned that into minority government in just one term and were booted in early 2002 after holding off an election until the last possible moment. It wasn’t until two years ago, March 2018, that they finally made it back into power. The party is neither renowned for its competence or familiar with governing.
Marshall himself would be best described as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Christopher Pyne, and there’s been a touch of the Fixer in the way he’s handled his corona crisis of the past week.
After a hotel quarantine worker contracted COVID-19 (now where have we heard that before?) leading the health authorities to issue warnings for sites in the Adelaide CBD and the north, west and south of the metropolitan area, Marshall suddenly threw the state into a lockdown far harsher than any of Daniel Andrews’ wildest fantasies on Wednesday as chief health officer Nicola Spurrier warned a new super-strain had hit the state.
Except it hadn’t. As early as Thursday the claims weren’t just being questioned, but dismissed.
Virus experts have rubbished claims a super-strain of COVID-19 is behind South Australia’s new coronavirus outbreak.
State authorities claimed on Wednesday the new outbreak – which has infected 23 people and forced the state into a harsh six-day lockdown – was a ‘frightening” new strain of the virus that was more contagious and likely to spread silently without causing symptoms.
Genetic data from SA’s cases, which could reveal a new mutation, has not yet been released.
In the absence of that data, experts said claims of super strains stretched scientific credibility given they had not been detected anywhere else in the world.
By the middle of Friday, it emerged that the plague was porkies. An infected hotel security guard had also been working in a pizza shop in Adelaide’s west, and a colleague on a graduate visa employed alongside him had decided not to mention his job details, but instead claim he’d only been a customer. It was only the efforts one of dogged contact tracer that extracted the truth.
In other words, a harsh snap lockdown was called without corroborating the evidence.
Spurrier declared she had acted out of “an abundance of caution” — you know, like when you burn down the house to get rid of moths in the wardrobe in the guest bedroom — and Marshall began to slowly lift restrictions; presumably slowly to suggest there was something there to begin other than a fit of the vapours at the highest levels of pandemic management, as a face-saving exercise.
Unlike Andrews, Marshall hasn’t been a dictator, but a dunce.
Yet there is one deadly serious element to the whole fiasco that has escaped significant scrutiny – an element that should cause heads to roll.
Despite everything inflicted on Victoria, SA has only been testing hotel quarantine workers when they have shown coronavirus symptoms. One would have thought that weekly tests, backed up by random checks, would be the mere minimum after the disaster across the state’s eastern border.
Marshall, his Health Minister, Spurrier and the entire leadership of the South Australian pandemic management are guilty of the grossest negligence. They have out-bungled Victoria, where a minister and departmental secretaries have walked the plank.
If there aren’t resignations, the Premier’s personal authority and competence should remain under the darkest cloud. Indeed, the state may well need a new Marshall in town.
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