In July this year, Premier Daniel Andrews insisted on a ‘Ring of Steel’ around Sydney. Why not protect the Victorian regions and leave them open for business?


ON JULY 23, 2021, when Sydney’s daily COVID-19 numbers hit 136, the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews declared “Sydney is on fire”.

Over the weekend, it hit a peak of 319.

And as part of extra measures the NSW State Government needed to introduce, he said, to protect regional NSW and Victoria was a “Ring of Steel”.

“Sydney is on fire with this virus, and we need a ring of steel put around Sydney,” he said.

“Let’s focus on what’s going on in Sydney, let’s focus on not spreading what’s going on in Sydney across the rest of our country,” Mr Andrews said.

“We will finish up with the whole country locked down if we don’t do this properly.

“The last thing I want is Victorians to see off this second Delta outbreak only to have further incursions because what’s going on in Sydney is not being contained to Sydney.

“If it is a national emergency, then there is a national responsibility to do everything possible to contain it where it is now, not to see it spread.

“We did it last year to protect country Victoria and our country and the same must occur in relation to Sydney.

“That’s what I’ll be asking for at national cabinet when we meet after this press conference,” he said.

“If Sydney has been declared a national emergency, then my message is very clear, on behalf of all Victorians I am saying, there is a national responsibility to put a ring of steel around Sydney just as we did last year, because that will help stop the spread of the virus across the whole nation.”

So why not reintroduce a second Ring of Steel around Melbourne or at least, release the regions from lockdown, given there’s no local cases?

With very few exceptions, almost all of the 150-plus exposure sites are in Melbourne’s western suburbs, predominantly around the Caroline Springs, Derrimut and Altona North areas.

Some outlying exposure sites have been nominated at Yallambie in Melbourne’s north east, Camberwell, Frankston, Doncaster, and St Kilda but there are no exposure sites still listed in regional Victoria, and apart from two alleged positives in the sewerage at Benalla and Healesville, regional Victoria has had no new incidents.

The Gippsland Region Public Health Unit confirmed at the weekend that there remains one active case in the whole region, a case quarantining at Sale. The case previously listed as located in Bass Coast has transferred into hotel quarantine, the GRPHU told the Sentinel-Times.

Ahead of last weekend’s case numbers, none of which are located in regional Victoria, Mr Andrews was criticised for making false claims about “positives” in the sewerage at Wangaratta as the pretext for including regional Victoria in the lockdown.

The Nationals’ Leader Peter Walsh did not mince his words:

“There’s only one response to today’s embarrassing revelations that sewerage at Wangaratta ultimately tested negative for COVID: release regional Victoria from lockdown,” said Mr Walsh, a Swan Hill local, said.

“Announcing the snap statewide lockdown due to outbreaks in parts of Melbourne, Daniel Andrews claimed wastewater at Wangaratta “has pinged, if you like, firstly positive, then it went negative and now it has gone positive again” and that this left no option but to lockdown all of regional Victoria.

“But today, local Wangaratta Mayor Dean Rees revealed the third test had in fact registered negative.

“Lie, cover-up or misinformation – no matter how the Premier got it so wrong, Labor now has one choice: release regional Victoria from the seven-day lockdown.

“Thousands of people, businesses and jobs are trapped in a loop of catastrophic mental, social and economic destruction because the Andrews Labor Government still can’t get the basics right.

“Daniel Andrews based this statewide lockdown on misinformation – at best. At worst, Daniel Andrews has deceived Victorians for his own political ends.

“Every day our communities remain closed is another day of lost income for families who are barely making ends meet.”

He said the Andrews Labor Government had to come clean with the public health advice in the interests of transparency and accountability.

Premier apologises but no reprieve

Asked at Saturday’s daily update, if he could appreciate a level of frustration and even anger from country Victoria, that the government used a false report of positive fragments in the Wangaratta sewerage to justify including regional Victoria in the lockdown, Mr Andrews apologised, but stumped up two new claims.

Well, what I’d say to everyone in regional Victoria, whether it’s in Wangaratta where I grew up, or any other part of regional Victoria, there are mystery cases. We don’t know where this is, we’ve got wastewater in Benalla and Healesville, separate to the Wang issue

“And look, we apologize. We try and get the best information out as quickly as we can. Nothing’s perfect, no one’s ever pretended that it is. Wastewater is not the only reason why people are locked down across the state, the real number one reason, if you want to put it in those terms, the most important reason, we have mystery cases, at least two. We don’t know where they’ve come from, we don’t know who they’ve given it to. And on that basis, everyone is at risk.

“This got to Mildura last time. It’s got to Armadale in NSW, and that’s a long way out of Sydney. So, you know, we take a cautious approach, no regional community wants this, and we certainly don’t want a situation where we’ve got to fight on multiple fronts, because it gets away from us in regional Victoria.”

Asked whether the western suburbs of Melbourne would be locked down or if regional areas might be released earlier, Mr Andrews said he would be guided by the health authorities.

“Based on the advice I’m given, that is what will be included in the lockdown. That is the terms and conditions and provisions of the lockdown. It’s not a political judgment, it’s not one that’s made by me it’s made by public health experts who look at the epidemiology, the basic the history of every single case; what we know, what we don’t know, what we suspect, and they make judgments.

“And what the national cabinet has agreed and reconfirmed in the strongest possible terms yesterday, is that there’s only one option, there’s only one weapon we have against this, and that is the quick, hopefully, short-sharp lockdown.

“And I’ll always take advice on whether that should be part of Melbourne, all of Melbourne or all of the state. I wouldn’t draw any further conclusions than that. If I get the advice, we follow the advice that’s served us well. And there’s really no alternative.”

The Premier said in July, in reference to the escalation of the outbreak in Sydney, that “a number of things contributed to the success of Victoria’s stage four lockdown: one hour of exercise, a 5km radius, a curfew — plus a ring of steel.”

So why not lockdown those areas where the virus exists and free up regional Victoria until an actual problem is identified?