Now that much of Australia, but not Victoria, is locked down, it seems like a good time to reconsider last year’s epic lockdown in the light of subsequent experience. What have we learned that is useful?
- Hotel quarantine doesn’t work. Immense amounts of effort were devoted into working out who made what mistakes in setting up Melbourne quarantine, whether it was bad contracting, security guards fraternsing with the inmates returned travellers, or something else. After a dozen or more leakages, in every state in the country, it’s evident that this effort was a waste of time. The correct response was for the Commonwealth government to accept its constitutional responsibility and set up purpose-built quarantine facilities as fast as possible. A year later, this is finally starting to happen.
- Localised lockdowns with arbitrary boundaries don’t work. They failed in Melbourne and again in Sydney. The one success (Avalon) was the exception that proves (tests) the rule: a peninsula, with only a few roads in or out, lots of single family homes for professionals who could work from home.
- Lockdown needs to be early. It’s forgotten now, since it doesn’t fit the “Dictator Dan” stereotype, but Andrews waited a long time for full lockdown, though less than in the earlier national lockdown.
What remains to be seen is how much difference contact tracing makes, and whether Delta offsets this. The standard line is that NSW was much better than Vic now, and has improved greatly since then. But they never found the index case for Avalon, or the links between the known source and a couple of mystery cases a few weeks ago. If the current NSW outbreak is controlled quickly, that’s a big win for contact tracing. If not, it might be Delta or maybe tracing was never as good as claimed.
Finally, the obvious point. If Morrison and Hunt hadn’t made a mess of buying vaccines, then played down the urgency of getting vaccinated, we would be a great deal better off.