Monday, 20 April 2020

Government must lower alert level today


“It is increasingly clear that the Government must lower the COVID-19 alert level today”, says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“The health risks of COVID-19 are much lower than first thought. The Prime Minister said without the lockdown ‘tens of thousands would die,’ but the curve was flattening even before the lockdown came into effect. Economic modeller Ian Harrison has criticised the assumptions in the Government’s COVID-19 modelling, including that it had no ability to trace and isolate infected people. Adjustments like this one bring the forecast deaths from the high thousands to the low hundreds.

“On the other hand, the damage to the economy is much greater than ever imagined. Another cycle of rental payments with no revenue will finish off even more jobs and businesses. According to a former Reserve Bank economist, we might have lost $9 billion in economic activity while in lockdown.

“If three incubation cycles of lockdown have not eliminated the virus then four will further reduce it but not eliminate it. So long as it exists it can still come back. If the Government extends the lockdown, we’ll still face the prospect that we just pushed any future outbreak further into winter.

“Small and medium-sized businesses have been forgotten by the Government, who has little understanding of them. A few months back, the Government was criticising supermarkets for being a duopoly, now it has locked that duopoly in.

“The Government’s Alert Level 3 mantra is ‘safe not essential’, but many retailers won’t be given the opportunity to prove they can operate safely. It is illogical that butchers, bakers and greengrocers cannot open on a one-in-one-out basis but dairies can, while supermarkets remain open on a fifty-in-at-a-time basis. Online trading will continue to be restricted, giving Australian businesses an advantage.

“Without greater flexibility and certainty on Alert Level 3 rules, businesses that could operate safely will fold and jobs will be needlessly lost.

“The trade-off facing Cabinet today isn’t lives versus money, but lives vs. lives. Wealth equals health. In poorer countries, people die earlier. Only a few months ago, affording the same cancer drugs as wealthier Australia was one of our biggest policy debates. Cancer check-ups and other treatments missed as a result of the lockdown must be counted. Unfortunately, there may more suicides as a result of economic devastation than deaths from COVID-19.

“COVID-19 has been a missed opportunity for open government. The Government should have set up the key decisions to be made and openly invited input on its modelling rather than kept to a narrow coterie of favoured academics. That is how you harness the power of a free society, get better advice, and take people with you.

“It should have been procuring private sector solutions from Day 1. Health Minister David Clark promised a portal that would triage private sector offers such as those for rapid testing and tracing technology. We still do not have one.

“If we don’t move to Alert Level 3, it is likely to be due to a lack of progress on contact tracing. We may face a longer lockdown because the Government hasn’t been able to trace people who are ill, a key function of central government. Dr Ayesha Verrall’s damning audit of its contact tracing capabilities should be released as soon as possible.”