- Opinion Piece -

Lockdown questions need answers

Sam Birrell 2019

When the five-day circuit breaker lockdown was announced by the Victorian Government on February 12, there was one new feature — regional Victoria would experience stage four restrictions for the first time ever.

Shops and cafes closed, children were home from school and we could have only two-hour exercise outings, not more than 5 km from home.

It was particularly difficult for hospitality businesses to manage, given the short notice and the fact that it was Valentine’s day weekend.

The Premier’s rationale was that ‘there are no cases in regional Victoria, and we want to keep it that way’.

The assumption was made that if there are softer rules in regional Victoria, then many Melburnians who want some freedom would go to the regions, risking taking the virus with them.

We have first-hand experience of that in Shepparton.

But, given that the Melbourne lockdown involved a legally enforceable regulation that people could not move more than 5 km from their residence, then anyone going to the regions would be breaking the law.

It might be difficult to enforce that, as the Premier explained, there was not enough time to put up a ring of steel.

The risk, therefore, involved the number of people who would escape the metropolitan area, intentionally breaking the law, and those who would have been able to get organised and get to the regions on Friday evening, before the regulations came into force.

This combined with the probability that there would be COVID infections among them, given the number of cases in Melbourne.

This needs to be balanced against the economic, social and educational damage done to the people of regional Victoria by the lockdown.

Was it necessary to lock the entire state down for a small number of cases of a more infectious virus that had moved into parts of Melbourne?

I am not saying that the Premier made the right or the wrong call, they were clearly worried that the new strain of COVID had the potential to spread significantly into the community.

But the decision-making process around judgement calls with this impact deserves to be critically interrogated without a political overlay (Dan good — Michael bad, or vice versa).

The issue divides opinion like no other, because different people put different value on personal freedom versus greater good.

It is challenging to evaluate in hindsight, because no-one will ever know what would have happened without the lockdown.

These decisions are often based on advice that the rest of us are not privy to at the time of they are made, and mostly there is no good answer.

Leaders at the moment are dealing with ‘least worst’ options.

But it is incumbent on regional leaders to question the balance of risk and reward when arriving at these decisions.

Businesses are not designed for this uncertainty into the future.

Shepparton florists cannot order stock for February 14 only to be told that they must close on February 13, with a few hours’ notice.

The cost of these continual lockdowns is human as well as economic, as the two are completely intertwined.

Business needs financial support to cope with these occurrences, and support from the government is welcome, but what they want to do is trade.

Can we have a framework where some community transmission can be managed without entire statewide lockdowns?

Hopefully a swift and efficient rollout of the vaccine program will make life a bit more certain and easier to navigate in 2021.

The Committee for Greater Shepparton’s Chief Executive Officer, Sam Birrell writes a monthly opinion piece for the Shepparton News on topical subjects affecting Greater Shepparton.

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Sam Birrell

Sam Birrell

Sam is the CEO of Committee for Greater Shepparton.