Dan O'Heirity

Victoria Has Declared a State of Disaster

It is 11PM and, once again, I would rather be playing Doom 3 BFG but here I am writing another entry about Covid-19. I have never been accused of being verecund and today was no exception. I attended a virtual meeting with my academic peers – one of around 20 meetings that I have this week – and all the talk was of course about the decision on Sunday by the Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews to declare a state of disaster in Victoria and to impose a curfew from 8 PM through to 5AM. This state of disaster now runs in conjunction with a state of emergency that has been in place since March, 2020. One significant difference between the two seems to be that the state of disaster gives police much greater powers to enforce Covid-19 restrictions including enforcing the curfew. As I reported yesterday, people can be fined up to $10,000 if they break the curfew.

The Police Ministers Has Significant New Powers

Also, the Police Minister is given significant additional powers under the declaration of a state of disaster. For example, the Minister can, “direct any government agency to do or refrain from doing any act, or to exercise or perform or refrain from exercising or performing any function, power, duty or responsibility“. The Minister also has, “the power to declare that the operation of the whole or any part of an Act or legislative instrument is suspended”. There is strict limitation on this second additional power. Essentially the provisions of an Act or instrument prescribing a government agency’s duties or responsibilities would have to be seen to inhibit the response of that agency to the disaster which, in this case, is obviously Covid-19. The question, or at least a question, right now is whether we should be concerned about the additional powers given to the Police Minister because at first sight it is somewhat alarming to see a Police Minister being granted extensive new powers.

I took a look at Federal based governmental agencies in Victoria. A few examples stood out as possibly being of relevance in terms of ministerial authority to direct the actions of an agency during a state of disaster. These were the “Department of Justice and Community Safety“, “Health Purchasing Victoria“, and “Victoria State Emergency Service Authority“. Perhaps the Minister would direct the Department of Justice and Community safety with respect to its role in being responsible for managing mandatory quarantine and emergency accommodation programs as part of Victoria’s public health response to the coronavirus. The Police Minister might also direct Health Purchasing Australia which has responsibility for procuring goods and services to deliver healthcare. Finally, the Minister might direct the Victoria State Emergency Service Authority in terms of the provision of emergency services to cope with Covid-19.

Having taken a look at how the Minister might need to exercise new powers under the State of Disaster, there does not appear to be any real cause for alarm. After all, it makes complete sense that the Minister might need to direct the agencies that I examined in order to ensure the best possible response to the Covid-19 outbreak in Victoria. And yet, at the same time, I remain concerned. In addition to basically being locked up in our homes for 22 hours a day, we now have a curfew from 8 PM through to 5AM with police patrolling the streets to enforce the curfew. My point here is that I am wondering what other powers might be granted to the Police Minister, powers that are meant to ensure that we all conform to the State of Disaster lockdown measure. And, what might come after the State of Disaster ends. Will the Police Minister, and the police, be given new powers to enforce regulations under with Covid-19 normal looks like? I’m not sure right now but I am going to continue to watch this space.

My Academic Colleagues Remain Doltish With Respect to Covid-19

Today I was in one of the many tedious meetings that I have to attend every week. One of my peers, whom I deem to be not particularly bright, told us all that the Victorian government had done just what was needed to counter Covid-19. I stated that expressed as a fraction of the population, only 0.008% of the population have died from Covid-19 and I rounded off by referring to the fact that we have entered into an Orwellian nightmare scenario with police patrolling the streets to arrest offenders who are breaking the curfew. O.K. I was being deliberately provocative with that statement. I also pointed out that a significant majority of Covid-19 deaths are occurring amongst those who are elderly and / or those with pre-existing health conditions.

The points that I made are grounded in facts. As reported today by ABC News, Victoria has so far recorded 11,557 Covid-19 cases since data gathering first began. The current number of confirmed active cases stands at 6,322. There have been 123 deaths giving a fatality rate of 1.06%. There are 385 hospital cases with 38 patients in intensive care units. There are 649 active cases amongst healthcare workers and 1053 active cases linked to aged care facilities. This means that 10% of all active cases are linked to health care workers and 16% of all active cases are linked to age care facilities. I refrained from going any further with my line of argument. For example, I did not mention that only 1% of all active cases worldwide are serious or critical. Nor did I mention that during the period up until August 2019 there were around 250,000 influenza cases in Australia with around 1,500 deaths.

There were 12 people in my meeting and my factual claim about the population percentage death rate was met with a deafening silence. Ironically, given that I was in a meeting with academics, I believe that this complete lack of response resulted from the fact that I had actually provided a piece of data to back up what I was saying as opposed to just offering baseless opinions on what is really happening with Covid-19 in Victoria. The silence was broken when someone started to talk about the need for empathy in “these times”. The remark, which was calculated to invoke the “we’re all in this together sentiment”, was clearly directed at me. I countered that the Victorian State of Disaster along with the Stage 4 lockdown, suffers from a distinction lack of empathy and understanding of the mental toll on Victorian residents. In particular, calls to mental health services have gone through the ceiling during the Covid-19 lockdown in Victoria. More facts that no one really wanted to hear.

Reflecting now on the fact that I was the lone Covid-19 naysayer in the room, I am reminded of articles that I have read in which anyone who questions the Covid-19 narrative is labelled as being a conspiracy theorist. This is what happens when you don’t “rally around the flag” by uncritically accepting government messaging and the discourse in the media that continually peddles the lie that there is a pandemic in Australia. A while back I reported on one such article that argued that it is science that gives us truth. We must therefore, trust scientific opinion. Here’s the problem with science. Scientists fundamentally disagree with one another on just about every scientific subject. Thus, according to the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom, scientists in Holland have, after an extensive review of data, declared that “there is no firm evidence to back the use of face coverings“. Sure, there are multiple reasons for their conclusion but as far as the scientists are concerned, the conclusion stands.

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