As Victoria plunged back into lockdown, Google searches for Prime Minister Daniel Andrews jumped through the roof.
The public wanted to know when the prime minister – the face of the 2020 lockdowns – was returning and how his recovery from a broken back was going.
Despite having one of the most coordinated and most popular social media accounts in politics, there hasn’t been a peep from Andrews during Victoria’s fourth lockdown.
His temporary replacement, James Merlino, is in constant contact with the Prime Minister.
This also applies to a few key officials, but many ministers only communicate through texts or not at all.
To be fair, he’s a major injury and Andrews has a lot to do, but the information vacuum has left many in politics and the public scratching their heads, causing wild, useless rumors to circulate.
Andrews is coming back this month. The tip is that it won’t be until the middle of the month.
Victoria, fourth time bad luck
This lockdown, Merlino is in the hot seat.
It’s a different looking team than last year’s marathon lockdown.
There is no Jenny Mikakos around the cabinet table, no Andrews, and Police Secretary Lisa Neville is also absent because she is dealing with a serious health problem.
Politics is a little different.
The spray directed by Merlino and treasurer Tim Pallas on Sunday at the federal government for providing financial support to crippled businesses — while vintage Andrews was in style — was more overt in its criticism.
For months, aside from a few outbursts at Josh Frydenberg, the prime minister was constructive in his public comments about the prime minister and was rarely drawn to criticism of Scott Morrison.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison was equally remarkable.
“We will continue to support Victoria to get Victoria open and do everything we can to ensure that Victoria does not close itself again,” he said.
There is palpable anger and frustration in the community that Victoria is once again in this mess – the only state trapped in the COVID-19 swamp for the fourth time.
When it became clear that Victoria was once again on the brink of collapse, the state government was quick to point out that this outbreak was attributable to the federal government for failing to meet its quarantine responsibilities.
This outbreak originated at the Playford Hotel in Adelaide via aerosol transfer.
Lessons not learned
It also exposes a lack of national coordination. Why were the hard lessons of the hotel quarantine failures in Victoria not picked up by other states and standards developed?
And why hesitate at a purpose-built quarantine site?
If it were a war – as COVID-19 has so often been called – it would have been built now, or at least signed up to the idea.
Monday’s news that the virus is now in retirement homes is a nightmare scenario but has highlighted the huge gap between the rhetoric and the reality of the vaccinations.
Not all residents have had the jab and staff were told to look for it themselves.
These are the vulnerable frontline workers, the propagators of the latest wave.
Experts shake their heads as to why they were not given priority and vaccinations became mandatory.
It’s just a cog in a slow vaccine rollout.
In response to last year’s outbreaks, it was planned that aged care workers would only work in one location, but this latest outbreak has revealed that the edict was lifted last year and it is still happening.
Another unlearned lesson that could have tragic consequences.
Victoria has also learned no lessons from other states. The lack of a unified QR code system until last Friday is irritating considering most other states have it.
And enforcement in other states is high.
You cannot enter a pub, do your shopping or order a cup of coffee without showing that you have checked in. So why has Victoria been so lax?
It’s a problem that seniors in Victoria privately admit is a problem.
Contact tracing questions linger, but with several cases being sick and contagious for more than a week before being tested and isolated, the system was already up to it.
Additional resources have been deployed.
Assessment to COVID-19 response
When the pandemic is quelled, the nation and state must properly assess what worked and what didn’t.
Authorities need to be better prepared for the next pandemic.
Calls have been made for a royal commission in Victoria’s response, led by the Australian Medical Association and reiterated by the state’s opposition.
The idea certainly has merit, especially when you consider that a royal commission was held after Black Saturday claimed 173 lives.
The findings have improved the way wildfires are managed in Victoria.
But any commission/investigation/revision should look beyond Victoria’s borders to get to the bottom of how the whole deadly pandemic has affected us all.
Perhaps that’s why the idea fell on deaf ears in Canberra.