On August 10, I wrote about a potential health disaster looming for Victoria, Australia, following a statement made by its premier Daniel Andrews about mandatory self-isolation. You can find that article here: Lock Up Covid-19 Quarantine Repeat Offenders

Two weeks prior, the premier had said that 25% of those meant to be self-isolating at home with Covid-19 had not been found when door-knocked: that roughly, a couple of hundred known people with Covid-19, were potentially walking the streets each day.

Shortly after, on August 2, with Covid-19 infections out of control, he placed Victoria in a State of Disaster with Melbourne under the country’s harshest lockdown called “Stage 4” and the State’s first ever curfew.

In doing so, he made the point of announcing that self-isolators would no longer have the right to leave home for exercise.

Open a window or stand at the door if you want some fresh air.

Yes, that’s right. How these people were ever let out in the first place, beggars belief.

Thing is, yesterday, August 19, the State’s deputy police commissioner, Rick Nugent, was asked to clarify these statistics.

And in a somewhat jumbled reply, he said that of 3,000 self-isolators door knocked, 800 were not home, of whom 42 had been fined. Dividing 800 into 3,000 is where we get that 25%.

But the deputy commissioner added, that only those not found at home twice were ever reported to Victoria Police for investigation—and of those 42 fined, only 16 had received Victoria’s heaviest on the spot fine, $4,957.

He then said, that since the weekend 444 people had also not been found at home. And of these, 98 were still being looked into. Were these part of the 3,000 he’d mentioned earlier?

What the heck does any of this mean?

Well, a couple of hours ago, Premier Andrews was pushed on these figures. But a startling assumption had been made by the media.

Taking the 42 fines out of the 3000 people door knocked, they arrived at a figure that only 1% and not 25% of those meant to be isolating, were actually in breach. The premier, with a poker face, did not dispute this figure. In fact, he reinforced this thinking by alluding to the following math.

Of the 3,000 people door knocked and of the 800 people not found at home, 758 were actually legitimately, either:

  1. Seeking medical advice as allowed.
  2. Seeking medical supplies as allowed.
  3. At home but not answering the door which is not allowed.
  4. In the back shed as allowed.
  5. Self-isolating at a different address reflecting poor case management.

In other words, only 42 people—total—had ever broken the law in Victoria. All had received a fine of some sort. And only 16 of these were deemed serious, because they’d received the maximum on the spot penalty of $4,957. No mention of these other 98. No questioning how 758 people could be out buying headache tablets, wrongly tracked or in the shower.

What does this imply for the future?

It explains why, unlike my call-to-arms in my earlier article, we had not yet witnessed any scramble to incarcerate repeat self-isolation breakers or otherwise see them removed from society until proven safe.

And here’s the kicker for the future.

The deputy chief health officer at today’s press conference, said that self-isolators only needed to stay at home for 10 days.

Once they had then declared themselves symptom-free to a health official, they were deemed safe to rejoin society—whether or not they’d previously been roaming the streets. No follow-up Covid-19 test required. This was the Taiwanese approach, he said.

If you think that none of this makes sense, you’re right. I know that some of my fellow journalists struggled with this logic today too. And kudos to them for pushing the point.

You see, even if it’s just 1% who are breaking the law that means with a Reproduction Number currently at R1, for every 100 new cases per day, one offender will still be spreading the virus in the community to one other. Today, with 240 new Covid-19 cases that would be 2.4 new spreaders.

Thing is, when announcing Stage 4 the premier said:

All it takes is one person.

Isolation breakers still need to be locked up. If not, we’re putting our faith once again in government to get it right. It’s just that we’re in Stage 4 right now because seven weeks ago, the government got it so wrong.

Is it learning?

Update 4:40pm—Victoria Books a “Hot Hotel” for Self-Isolation

And just as I dispair my call for a lock up of Covid self-isolators being ignored, The Age newspaper is reporting that the Victorian Government has booked a 146-room boutique hotel in Melbourne to serve as a “hot” accommodation for people with Covid-19 unable to self-isolate at home.

According to The Age, this $10m contract will last one year.

Now’s the time to calm things down Mr. Premier and think the future through. At least you’re averting my fear of this particular crisis exploding on us, and for that I thank you. Threat assessment is the art of preemption: not reacting to the enemy’s attack.

© 2020 Adam Parker.