Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Picture: Andrew Henshaw/NCA NewsWire
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Picture: Andrew Henshaw/NCA NewsWire

'The fear is palpable': Andrews' mistake

A leading epidemiologist says the Victorian government is "so fearful" of the coronavirus that it has adopted a "strange" approach to containing it.

Professor Catherine Bennett, chair in epidemiology at Deakin University, has spoken to The Australian Financial Review.

"I just think they're so fearful of this virus, where they talk about it all the time, and they don't feel they understand it well enough, and they've never got on top of these mystery cases," Prof Bennett said.

"I do really think the fear is palpable.

"It's strange to me as an epidemiologist because we now should be in a much better position to be very targeted, very competent in what we need to do, and to get on with it.

"Going to blanket restrictions is always what you do when you don't know where the virus is, you don't know how it's spreading."

It comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison's wife, Jenny, has released a video with a rare public plea on Women's Health Week.

"Call the doctor. Book that appointment. Don't let it be the year where we say "I'll put that off". Because your health is so important to you and those around you," she said. 

Jenny Morrison's rare statement on 'crazy' year

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison's wife, Jenny, has made a rare public appeal to women around the country to mark women's health week.

Mrs Morrison urged women around the country to get checked for cancer including having pap smear tests, mammograms and mole checks as testing rates have fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The former nurse spoke from inside Kirribilli House with the family dog when she said 2020 had been a "blur" and a "crazy year" for many.

"Women are putting off their health checks, Pap tests, mole checks, mammograms and so much more."

"So call the doctor. Book that appointment. Don't let it be the year where we say "I'll put that off". Because your health is so important to you and those around you."

Mrs Morrison, 52, who has two daughters with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, said 2020 had been a year of "disruption, loss and sadness" with many people "doing it particularly tough," particularly in Melbourne.

"During this time we've all been trying to do the right thing," she said.

"We're wearing our masks, we're washing our hands and maintaining our distance to keep ourselves and others healthy.

"But there's some things that we might have put off that are really important as women. And that's something we all need to pay attention to."

Andrews 'will have to back down'

The Herald Sun has a rather explosive interview with Brian McNamee, the chairman of biotech company CSL, which has been chosen to manufacture a coronavirus vaccine for Australia.

Dr McNamee has absolutely ripped into the Victorian government's roadmap, labelling it a "map for misery".

"Our response is disproportionate to the medical challenge," he told the newspaper.

"The Premier is saying his opinion won't change because of anger, but the truth of the matter is that I don't think he even understands the severity of what is occurring, both in the economy but also in the human consequences.

"I don't know anyone who supports this plan.

"We are an absolute outlier internationally. It's the most crushing policy in a sophisticated modern country with a dynamic city, like Melbourne."

He brushed off comparisons to New Zealand's lockdown policies, saying the country "barely counts" and if you "look at larger economies with big cities", none of them are attempting to do what Victoria is doing.

Dr McNamee is of the opinion that Premier Daniel Andrews will have to back down eventually.

"So we're only in some ways debating when the Premier has to back down, and not if," he said.

Vaccine trial pause 'very common'

Last night 7.30 spoke to Professor Katie Flanagan, an expert in infectious diseases, about the pause in AstraZeneca's vaccine trial.

In case you missed the news earlier, we are talking about one of the two potential vaccines the Australian government was hoping to get priority access to.

The trial was halted when researchers discovered a serious suspected adverse reaction in one of the participants.

"How common is a pause in a trial like this?" host Leigh Sales asked.

"It is very common, at some point, to have to do a pause," Prof Flanagan said.

"In a phase three trial of this particular vaccine, there are 60,000 people going to be recruited into the trial. As of yesterday, they'd recruited around 17,000 people.

"So it's not uncommon, when you're going to be looking very carefully for any safety signals, to see something happen to somebody. And that could be a hospital admission for any number of causes, or something serious happened to them - a new disease that they may get - that they think, well, it could potentially be related to the vaccine.

"So they pause the trial. Then they would do a thorough safety monitoring. There would be a safety investigation board that would investigate what is happening here, and if there is any possibility it is linked to the vaccine.

"When you get to such large-scale trials - things happen to people all the time, and serious things happen to people all the time. But they would have to stop and investigate it."

Prof Flanagan said Oxford University and AstraZeneca were probably correct not to release any details about the suspected adverse reaction yet.

"It may be the person that got a placebo is the person that had this serious adverse event. Until they actually un-blind and have a look, they won't know that," she said.

"It probably isn't appropriate (to reveal more) until they've got more information."

'Shouldn't he lift the curfew now?'

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt was on Sky News last night. Host Chris Kenny pressed him for an opinion on whether the Victorian government should lift its 8pm curfew on Melbourne.

"The most draconian measure Premier Daniel Andrews has put in place to try and contain the virus in Victoria is the curfew in Melbourne. People locked in their homes, effectively from 8pm until 5am," Kenny said.

"Are you surprised by the revelations yesterday that the chief medical officer in Victoria did not recommend this? That this was not a health recommendation; that the curfew is something that Daniel Andrews just decided to put in place for law and order reasons?"

"Look, I was somewhat surprised, because until now we'd understood that all of the actions taken had been taken on medical advice," Mr Hunt responded.

"I will respectfully leave that to the Victorians."

He started to go off on a tangent about the importance of contact tracing, so Kenny jumped back in.

"But Minister, in the state of Victoria now, people are living under this curfew. By the time it's lifted, on current projections, that curfew will have been in place for three months. There was no medical advice that advised the curfew," he said.

"Shouldn't Daniel Andrews lift it now, for the social sake, for the mental benefit of Victorians? Because it's just not a medical initiative."

"There has to be a medical basis for any restriction," Mr Hunt replied.

"We would like to see all and as many of the restrictions lifted as soon as the medical conditions allow.

"If there's no medical basis for something then obviously, that's then something entirely within the remit of the Victorian government to address. And we'd encourage them to consider that in the coming days."

'The fear is palpable'

Welcome to another day of live coronavirus coverage.

Well, I say day. At the moment we're still in the middle of the night. But you, dear reader, are probably asleep, and by the time you see this the sun will be up.

I'm here to set the scene before my illustrious colleagues take over blogging duties in the morning, so I'm going to spend the next few posts running you through the most important news from overnight.

Let's start with some striking comments from a leading expert, Professor Catherine Bennett, who is chair in epidemiology at Deakin University.

Prof Bennett has spoken to The Australian Financial Review, and criticised the Victorian government for letting its "fear" of the virus lead it towards a "strange" policy approach.

"I just think they're so fearful of this virus, where they talk about it all the time, and they don't feel they understand it well enough, and they've never got on top of these mystery cases," Prof Bennett said.

"I do really think the fear is palpable.

"It's strange to me as an epidemiologist because we now should be in a much better position to be very targeted, very competent in what we need to do, and to get on with it.

"Going to blanket restrictions is always what you do when you don't know where the virus is, you don't know how it's spreading."

At last count, Victoria had 262 active cases with an unknown source - the "mystery cases" Prof Bennett was referring to.

She said the Victorian government was too fixated on restricting people's movement.

"They're not feeling comfortable or confident enough to map an evidence-based path out. They just keep saying, 'Stay with the most strict lockdown,'" she said.

"We shouldn't be like that anymore."

Originally published as 'The fear is palpable': Andrews' mistake


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