A second chance

Re-entering lockdown, Victoria has an opportunity to correct the errors and overreach that marked its first failed attempt to contain Covid-19.

The state was unlucky, no doubt, but its leaders were also unwilling to countenance any criticism. There was little patience for communities confused by mixed messaging, or the concerns of those who saw a law-and-order response when they hoped for one led by public health.

Vital information was not shared in languages other than English until far too late, while Victoria Police issued fines in far higher numbers than any other state.

It is not hard to imagine there was a relationship between the two.

The hard lockdown of Melbourne’s public housing towers saw the blind spots of Daniel Andrews’ response converge, stranding some residents for days without the supplies and information they needed.

And yet the police were there, from moments after the premier’s announcement, ready to enforce the directive.

It fell to the community to step into the void as the government scrambled. Donations flooded in, filling warehouses – but they shouldn’t have been necessary.

There is an impulse within the Andrews government to lead with police, which is troubling in any circumstance. But the habit morphs into something darker as some five million people across the city move back into lockdown for six weeks, or perhaps even longer.

As Premier Andrews said on Thursday: “Even at the end of this six-week period though, I wouldn’t want people to think just because we had a single day of zero, or just because we had lower numbers than we have been reporting the last few days, that we could ease off if you like, or an automatic opening up at the end of the six-week period. It is dynamic and moves so fast.”

And he’s right, we still don’t really know what we’re dealing with in this virus. Months into this strange pandemic limbo though, we do know that resilience has frayed – and the toll on people’s mental health, compounded by the economic downturn, cannot be ignored.

Victorians need kindness and clarity from their leaders. They do not need police out in full force, nor the hovering threat of fines, in order to stay home.

The sacrifices made by everyone since this pandemic began are testament to the country’s willingness to do what is necessary to ensure large numbers of people don’t lose their lives to this virus.

If we are all in this together, then the public is a partner in this fight, not the enemy.

Because the truth is that this is still the early days. Even once the virus is contained, the possibility of another outbreak will hang there until a vaccine is found. Unemployment hitting record highs now feels like an inevitability.

If we are all in this together, then our leaders need to start thinking about their long game and realise that punitive measures will not get us through what comes next.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 11, 2020 as "A second chance".

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