As Melbourne, the capital of Victoria enters its second week of an unprecedented Stage 4 Covid-19 lockdown and night-time curfew, a problem keeps appearing.

Those confirmed positive with Covid-19, those who’ve come into close contact with them and those awaiting their Covid-19 test results are not all self-isolating as required.

It’s a systemic failure that can potentially undermine the efforts of millions doing the right thing and begs the question of how we can bring total compliance about?

In March Victoria’s chief health officer, his premier and their counterparts in neighbouring New South Wales were the people most responsible for preventing Australia from sharing the Covid fate of the USA today.

Both State administrations sat at opposite ends of the political spectrum, but both knew that only a lockdown of Australia could rid Covid-19. Together they convinced an economy-first prime minister that caution was all the nation had.

It worked well until NSW allowed cruise liners to dock in Sydney Harbour sparking Australia’s Covid-19 Wave 1. Then something happened in Victoria only a couple of months ago that gave birth to Australia’s Covid-19 Wave 2—and largely limited it to just that State. Underwriting both events were failures of the Federal government as well.

Why is Wave 2 a problem?

The why is simple. The number of people in Victoria with Covid-19 this past month-and-a-half has grown to unsustainable levels, averaging around 500 cases a day.

As more people become sick, more people require hospitalisation. As more people require hospitalisation, more health workers become infected. As more health workers become infected, well, it doesn’t matter how many beds or ventilators the State has—its health system eventually breaks. Absent a treatment or a cure when it comes to Covid-19, that’s a problem.

You see, it’s all a question of contagion. Covid-19 is unique among coronaviruses. It’s massively infectious. As you’ve read me note all too often, its R0 or Reproduction Number hovers anywhere between 2 and 6. One sick person could infect two to six others, and so on, and on.

This equation was made clear last week by Victoria’s deputy chief health officer, who said:

On the 25th of June we first hit 20 cases in this second wave. On the 11th of July 16 days later we hit 200 cases. So, what that would imply, is that with that same growth rate, 16 days after that would be the 27th of July, we would have hit 2,000 cases. By next week the 12th of August, we would have hit 20,000 cases.

By this week, Victoria could be reporting 20,000 Covid-19 cases a day!

We’re actually seeing this math play out across the world. The United States of America alone, holds over one-quarter of the world’s total infections. Brazil today, was called a “war zone”. Israel had quadrupled its cases in recent weeks.

Locking down a population, therefore, serves two purposes:

  1.  It places people in their homes to prevent infection reaching them: it circuit-breaks the contagion.
  2. It ensures that infected people themselves stay off the streets: it reduces their ability to spread the contagion.

How did Wave 2 arrive?

The how is simple too. It was case of privatisation run amok—and of governments unprepared for biological risk management despite 19 years of a Global War on Terror.

In a nutshell, thousands of Victorians are now infected with Covid-19 and hundreds are dead allegedly because private security firms were hired by the Victorian government to manage the quarantining of returned Australian expatriates arriving by air from overseas. Australia’s National Cabinet decided that returnees should compulsorily quarantine for 14 days under guard and private hotels left empty as a result of a fall in tourism would serve as perfect venues. On paper, it looked like a business win-win.

As a war plan, it was garbage.

The allegation is that some of these private security firms were incompetent, some of these private hotels were unprepared, and Federal and State government oversight protocols were inadequate to provide effective quarantine controls across the whole.

Hence, it’s further alleged that fraternisation between security guards and those quarantined [Update August 14—or between infected hotel personnel and security guards] resulted in the passing on of the virus to those guards’ households—some large—which in turn infected their suburbs and housing estates, which then exploded across the whole of Melbourne and parts of regional Victoria as people went about their day-to-day. Worse, it eventually made its way into the State’s aged care system.

It’s now believed that Victoria’s second wave hit with the contagion of R2+ and that’s the worry. But the story doesn’t end there.

You see, it had always been a requirement that people infected with Covid-19, their close contacts and those awaiting Covid-19 test results would self-isolate at home.

The Victorian government first tried to extend that policy by locking down entire outbreak suburbs, while naively letting residents go to work. It then locked down entire housing estates with a tighter fist and still, daily cases continued to rise.

So, the Victorian government placed the entirety of Melbourne and one northern shire into a Stage 3 lockdown that allowed businesses to operate. What the government didn’t anticipate was that 25% of those quarantining due to Covid infection, would breach their stay-at-home orders and worse, some of them would actually go to work. And daily cases started taking on their trajectory into the 400s and 500s per day.

Then the State government made mask-wearing mandatory: the first Australian government in five months of an airborne pandemic to do so. Once numbers reached the 600s and 700s with deaths occurring across the 30-100 age groups, Stage 4 lockdown and Victoria’s first ever curfew began.

Stage 4 introduced five unique directives:

  1. A four-week State of Disaster was declared.
  2. The majority of workplaces and all on-site retail were closed.
  3. A 5km limit was placed on people’s ability to shop and exercise.
  4. Outdoor exercise was permitted for one hour a day.
  5. Those under home-quarantine with Covid-19 or waiting for test results could no longer leave their premises for exercise. Don’t ask me how that was ever permitted.

Today, as a result of Stage 3 and mask wearing, it looks like Victoria has flatlined in case numbers averaging around 400-500 per day. Victoria’s chief health officer late last week, estimated that the State’s Reproduction Number was now 1.

But you can of course see the implication. If every Covid-infected person can still infect one other, daily cases will never decline. So, Victoria hopes that in five weeks’ time its R0 will be 0.5.

But here’s the kicker.

10% of those under mandatory quarantine are still not staying at home. Victoria’s contagion is still not being fully contained.

So it’s time for detention

Despite the ramping up of on the spot fines, Covid offenders continue to breach quarantine and curfew requirements. The Rubicon has been crossed. It’s time to invoke the power of detention afforded to the Victorian police minister under the State of Disaster.

Jail uninfected repeat curfew breakers.

As for repeat quarantine breakers, this is where the Australian Defence Force comes into play.

Unless a sufficient viral contagion management capacity exists in Victoria’s current prison system, a new detention facility will be required. Enter the Royal Australian Engineers for a rapid deployment of a quarantine base manned by the ADF, Federal and/or State police, fully equipped with controlled isolation lodgings, and logistics, medical and psychological services infrastructures. The only alternative is a return to hotel quarantine with exclusive venues equipped for impenetrable infection management as all guests will now have Covid, all at the offender’s expense.

Either way, detention has one clear goal:

To safely and humanely separate a repeat Covid-19 quarantine offender from society until that person tests Covid negative and no longer poses a danger to the community.

And while some people might protest this measure as draconian, fascist, or even Communist never let it be forgotten that Nazi Germany’s concentration camps operated under the sinister ruse of “Protective Custody”—aimed to supposedly “protect” those interned. Covid detention here, merely shifts mandatory self-quarantine to a more enforceable locale.

We forget that before Covid-19, the media ran regular stories of emergency rooms filled with victims of violence and of “ambulance ramping”. Law and order have always been the silver bullet for sustainable healthcare.

People who believe their infections are a joke, of little risk or of little concern are a pandemic threat. You can see the hatred in the Victorian premier’s eyes whenever asked about them. It’s time for him to flick the switch.

Without a treatment or vaccine, Covid-19 must still be eradicated.

Whether Stage 4 can turn Victoria into a Covid-free island like New Zealand, will be highly unlikely. Contagion will remain in New South Wales, South Australia—well, Australia itself—capable of seeping back into Victoria.

But today, in Victoria the Covid clock is ticking.

Quarantine detention is the only meaningful deterrent a Covid-19 law breaker can face.

The State of Disaster has paved the way. Will Victoria act?

Update August 19, 2020—Twenty-Five Percent Still Not Quarantining

In a press conference this afternoon, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner, Rick Nugent, said that of 3,000 door knocks, 800 people were still not found at home mandatorily quarantining. Of these, only 42 had been fined.

He added that of 444 people not found at home since the weekend, “98 were still under investigation”. At present, people are only referred to the Victorian police for investigation if not found at home twice. So, these numbers are significant.

The ramifications are clear. Unless Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, immediately rectifies this problem, Victoria has another Covid-19 powder keg waiting to explode; one that could invalidate Melbourne’s Stage 4 lockdown and the sacrifices its law abiding citizens, for weeks, have now made.

© 2020 Adam Parker.