If 2020 illustrated anything, it’s that there are far worse places than Western Australia to be trapped in. Sure, WA isn’t as fancy pants as places in the east but our beaches, food and weather are magnificent and you can still get to most places inside half an hour. In the Covid-19 context, our relative isolation overlaid with a blunt-force border policy has meant that it was almost as difficult for the virus to get in as it was for the populace to get out.
But I always had this niggle.
That despite such a stringent border policy, we were otherwise bare-arsed insofar as preparedness for an outbreak was concerned. Did we have a COVID response strategy to complement the hard border? What was the plan if there was an outbreak? Were our hospitals ready?
The Australia Medical Association and Australian Nurses Federation have both questioned the McGowan government’s ability to respond to an outbreak and have requested better protections and more PPE for frontline workers. Mark McGowan has treated all questions and criticisms with his usual unchecked arrogance, even exclaiming in November 2020 that “[t]elling people they can’t have a second job is very difficult. That’s not something we’re considering at this point in time”.
You would think after Victoria’s experience using non-exclusive private security for hotel quarantine, the WA government would open its bulging cheque-book and fortify the single biggest and most obvious weakness in the system. After all, WA was taking return travellers into hotel quarantine during the hard border; the hard border was a complementary policy, not a panacea.
But no, Mr 91%, cheered on by his supplicants, preferred to make political hay by demonizing fellow Australians than take effective steps to minimize the actual risk of an outbreak. He made a habit of gloating about WA’s COVID response and eradication strategy, directing criticisms and bequeathing gratuitous advice to premiers in other states.
Anyway, on Sunday, that ‘too good to be true’ feeling came home to roost.
In a rather uncomfortable press conference, a rattled and frankly terrified looking Mark McGowan announced that a hotel quarantine worker had called in sick, didn’t isolate, got tested for COVID19 days later, and later received a positive result. Incredibly, no automatic government protocol activated as a result of the worker calling in sick. We also learned that this man had a second job working for numerous rideshare companies and had visited 16 locations before returning a positive test.
The ensuing lack of nerve exhibited by the McGowan government was totally absurd but equally unsurprising. Instead of taking a measured approach to deal with a single case, it opted to put Perth, the Peel — the area around Mandurah on the city’s southern fringe — and the state’s South-West into a 5-day hard lockdown. A hard lockdown of 80% of the WA population over one positive case of community transmission? If that isn’t the lovechild of deficient and panicked then I don’t know what is.
The events of the last few days have also made it palpably clear why preparedness is key. On 8 January 2021, Federal Cabinet agreed to daily testing of hotel quarantine workers. This had already been implemented in Victoria on 7 December and in NSW on 14 December. It was then rolled out in SA on 8 January and in Queensland on 11 January. That is, the rollout in SA was immediate and in Queensland it took three days.
But here is the kicker.
It was not implemented in WA for hotel quarantine security until 29 January – three weeks after the National Cabinet meeting and a few days after this hotel quarantine worker is suspected to have contracted Covid-19. Consequently, a case which should’ve been caught by the improved testing regime wasn’t picked up. The Premier had little of substance to offer by way of explanation, instead noting that it was a big job and these things take time to organize.
What a copout.
This sh*tshow of a situation has prompted an array of responses, including from WA AMA president, Andrew Miller, who referred to the WA hotel quarantine program as ‘amateur’ and accused the McGowan government ‘of doing its homework on its way to school’.
Unsurprisingly, the West Australian continues to play the acolyte with the front of today’s paper trying to blame the security company for the outbreak and publishing a poll on McGowan’s apparently retained popularity. If it wasn’t obvious to people that the McGowan government’s Covid-19 strategy was a political agenda fueled by bravado and vanity (and little else), it must be now.
It has also been reported today that despite the WA government knowing about this positive case on Saturday night, WA health officials failed to inform the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee of the case on Sunday morning, instead advising there were no positive cases of community transmission in WA. It was not until shortly before the press conference, that the federal government was advised of the positive case.
Just this morning on 6PR, local talkback king Liam Bartlett interviewed Dr Robyn Lawrence of the State Health Incident Coordination Centre. We learned that this is the body in charge of hotel quarantine and that Dr Lawrence doesn’t think there was any debacle or breach of protocol. That is a laughable position to take given most of the state is in lockdown. I would hardly call it an achievement.
The events of the last 10 months would make for a rollicking comedy of errors if there was anything funny about it. The only saving grace is that this stunning lack of competence hasn’t resulted in a more severe human toll.
But as the Proverbs say: presumption comes first, and ruin close behind it; pride ever goes before a fall.
Will it be enough to lose him the election? Unlikely.
But at least the emperor has been disrobed.
Caroline Di Russo is a lawyer, businesswomen and unrepentant nerd.
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