Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. It was supposed to be a celebration of love.
It should also have been the biggest day of the year for florists, restaurateurs, café owners, wedding venues and the multitude of staff and suppliers all working hard to make Valentine’s Day the happiest of days for those in love and to keep their Covid-ravaged businesses afloat.
But not in Victoria.
Because of Premier Daniel Andrews’s panicked decision last Friday to place the entire state under hard lockdown for five days, for just a handful of known Covdi-19 infections, Valentine’s weekend was not just cancelled. It was massacred.
Flowers ordered but never sold. Food ready to grace candlelit tables tossed into the skip. Long-planned and often already Covid-postponed weddings never held.
Why? Because Victoria’s shambolic hotel quarantine regime yet again failed and its contact tracing system was unable to cope – even though dealing with a handful of actual new infections compared to the 800 a day the state experienced at the height of last year’s second Covid wave, when Andrews’s infamous ring of steel cut off Greater Melbourne from the rest of the world.
The Victorian government blames a nebulizer, used by a returned expat for his asthma, as the culprit for the spread of the UK coronavirus variant inside the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport. It denies the assertions, made to the Age by the man while himself in intensive care with Covid, that quarantine authorities knew about the nebulizer and didn’t stop him using it.
As we saw with the deadly second wave, nothing is ever Andrews’s fault. He would rather infer a bloke’s nebulizer use cancelled Valentine’s Day, closed a whole state, caused (on industry estimates) a billion-dollar hit to the economy, and once again saw the psychological ploy of decreeing masks must be worn everywhere to create an air of crisis and fear, to foster compliance. Like Macavity the Mystery Cat, Daniel’s never there.
If the ventilation in hermetically sealed, air-conditioned hotels helps the aerosol-borne spread of the virus; if quarantine workers don’t have adequate personal protective equipment; if some of those workers take a break in busy public spaces like the food court of a nearby air terminal where travellers could pick up the virus and transport it all over the country; and if workers going off-shift lead their normal lives in the wider community, that’s not Nebulizer Man’s problem, nor the workers’ problem.
It’s the Andrews government’s and the buck stops firmly with the premier, especially if his ministers and officials failed to apply hard lessons learned from last year’s fiascos. A ‘gold standard’ hotel quarantine regime? Fool’s gold.
Here’s a few suggestions for them. They should assess quarantine hotels for ventilation and other transmission risk factors before these start operating. They should fully equip all contact staff with full PPE. And they should treat those staff like fly-in-fly-out workers and pay them a motza in return for their putting on hold their social lives, keeping themselves in effective isolation when off-duty (no driving Ubers or hitting the driving range) and being actively managed by trained supervisors.
It may cost taxpayers a small fortune upfront but, compared to a billion-dollar economic hit for just five days’ lockdown – and since Andrews’s government has given itself the power to extend it until as late as 26 February, it could yet cost much more – that’s a bargain.
Daniel Andrews is a second-rate politician running a third-rate government running a fourth-rate hotel quarantine system. If there was any true political accountability in Victoria, he would be gone. But despite everything, he will stay premier as long as he wishes because he has no serious Opposition holding him to account and he knows the next Liberal premier isn’t even in the Victorian parliament.
For Victorians, locked down Valentine’s Day 2021 was like being in a toxic marital relationship, with divorce no option.
This is a sorry – no, disgraceful – state of affairs for seven million Victorians, including those who don’t want to stand with Dan but have no realistic alternative to Daniel Andrews and his Keystone Kops quarantine show.
This piece originally appeared in the Spectator Australia’s Morning Double Shot email. Sign up and make sure you don’t miss out here.
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