Thoughts after first full day of Brisbane lockdown

Twenty-seven hours into it, I’m still doubtful about the wisdom of the Greater Brisbane lockdown, especially on a day when no new COVID community transmission cases were announced, and on a day when, bizarrely, our Premier appeared to celebrate her power to close down the capital in her social media posts (see below).

Instagram post from Qld Premier showing how lockdown has shut down Felons Brewery at Howard Smith Wharves

Yes, COVID is a serious disease, and we don’t want to end up like the US or UK, but it’s currently the middle of Summer, not Winter, Brisbane is much less dense than British or American cities, and we’ve only had one recent case of community transmission.

Before substantially inconveniencing two million people and denying many businesses much needed trade, it would have been good for the government to provide a firmer justification for the sudden lockdown. Yes, the government is applying the Precautionary Principle, but, as I discussed with Joe Branigan last year, we should be sceptical of using that principle in public policy:

The Precautionary Principle and COVID-19 – podcast conversation with Joe Branigan

Apparently, if we have just one more case of community transmission before Monday 6pm, the lockdown will be extended until the end of the month. How can people or businesses make plans if a panicky Chief Health Officer and Premier can impose a lockdown with only ten hours’ notice and with such sketchy justification, as they did yesterday?

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12 Responses to Thoughts after first full day of Brisbane lockdown

  1. Russell says:

    Hi Gene
    I am scratching my head wondering why, if the infected person had over 700 potential contacts and the strain of COVID is 70% more infectious, have we not seen a significant spike in infections. This time I was not complaining (too much) as I could see some value given what is happening in the UK. But, what is going on here?
    The people who go along with this without raising a complaint tend to be people who are not financially effected I think.
    My daughter has a wedding in two weeks already postponed from last June. Fingers crossed.

  2. I disagree with you on this one Gene. I think the response from the Govt has been sensible and logical. Given what we’ve seen of this particular variant in the UK and US there is an obvious desire to clamp it down quickly.
    We were in the very fortunate position of having identified patient-zero and therefore a 3-day lock-down gives the authorities the very real prospect of shutting down further transmission quickly…but only if they stop movement for a few days to allow the contact tracing and testing effort to get on top of it.
    At a time when some businesses are yet to even reopen after the holidays, many are operating at well below normal levels, and it’s a weekend it seems to me entirely appropriate to ‘go hard and go early’ to (hopefully) ensure that we do not start down the path on which others find themselves.
    Of course if we end up with no new locally acquired cases by Monday then many will scream that the whole thing was an over-reaction when in fact such an outcome is precisely why the action was taken in the first place and should instead be seen as a vindication of the policy.
    Let’s see what this short lock-down brings, and what the response might be if (heaven forbid) there is further transmission, before slamming it as an over-reaction.

  3. Katrina Drake says:

    Better safe than sorry, COVID is a genie that cannot be easily put back in the bottle.

    I agree with Peter Faulkner’s summation on this one. A good summary of what the CEO explained clearly on the Qhealth video .

    Wonderful how Queenslanders are all working together in this crisis.

    We are all learning to allow for COVID disruptions into our planning. But, I truly feel for Russell planning for a wedding in this situation. Hope all goes well, I’ve stayed home all weekend for you!

    I’m hoping ‘ go hard go early’ maybe a catch cry and strategy we can carry forward into all fields of economic and policy decisions.

  4. Katrina Drake says:

    ‘ Panicky’ is not an adjective that fits well with Queensland’s CHO, well-considered, conscientious, intelligent, knowledgeable, diligent, come to my mind.

    On my daily masked walk, I’ve observed 100% compliance, so it seems the community largely agree.

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Thanks for the comments, Katrina. I agree the public is largely supportive and I’m happy to wear a mask when I go out. But the lockdown was completely unnecessary in my view. Did you see Peter Collingon’s comments…

    • Russell Rogers says:

      Katrina, good to hear your comments. Compliance, when there are significant fines does not necessarly mean agreement. I had my own little passive resistance and broke the law this moring by spending 10 seconds on the footpath placing my rubbish bin and, *gasp*, I was not wearing a mask!!! No one around so no one saw me so it was a bit wasted. But, how can the authorities go wrong being a super nanny? If you call a lockdown early then you are seen as protecting everyone. As the majority aren’t directly effected financially (yet) then you won’t hear too much complaining. If they try to be less draconian and assess things more responsibly and get it wrong al la Boris Johnson then you will never get out from under it politically. I actually think people are becoming afraid to question. We have moved from flattening the curve to killing the virus off in Oz and every life saved is worth mega millions of dollars. It probably takes way too much effort to really play this game properly so the authorities go for the simplist of rules and are seen as saviours. I guess there will be an economic price to pay but so far not many are paying it here.

  5. Katrina Drake says:

    Hi Gene,

    There is a lot of misinformation and sensationalist commentary circulating about the ‘rona. Mostly being generated to create clicks, and with little regard for public health, mental health and the larger economy. Not surprisingly Dr Peter Colligan is being largely misquoted and edited to creat media controversy.

    I find the best strategy is to take guidance and directions directly from the professionals who are employed or elected to protect our health system and community, and who have access to the actual facts and risks. Trust only in reliable sources.

    Hopefully, they can track the most expedient and safest track back to normality.

  6. Paul says:

    There is no cure at the moment in Australia. Lock downs are the only defence we have against the virus until everyone is vaccinated. Inconvenience and lost income against someone else’s life. Economies recover, dead people don’t. The current issue is not whether lock-downs are necessary (they are) but how the more transmissible strain of the virus got into Australia. This is clearly a failure of quarantine at international borders. Hotel quarantine in major cities is an extremely foolish idea. You can’t contain a highly transmissible virus in a commercial hotel. Of course some people will break quarantine, of course some people will make mistakes, of course some people are stupid and ignorant – that’s just the human condition and quarantine procedures must take this into account.
    All incoming overseas travelers should quarantine for 2-3 weeks in purpose built facilities in isolated areas before being released into the Australian population. For example demountables built near the RAAF northern bare bases (RAAF Sherger or RAAF Learmouth). Remote and isolated, nothing but kangaroos and crocodiles. The airstrips are designed fighter jets and transports and can take overseas commercial planes. Plenty of locally built air conditioned demountables built for the mining industry. A mere $100M (petty cash in the Federal Budget) would be enough to bring Australians home and restart the immigration program. These demountables could be used by defence subsequently in northern exercises. Quarantine in remote locations is not a new idea. It was standard practice near ports in the nineteenth century.
    Quarantine in remote locations is obvious to any one dealing with human or agricultural animal/plant quarantine. We can keep agricultural viruses such as ‘foot and mouth’ disease in cattle out. Hard to think of any reason it is not done with Covid 19 other than wanting to help the economy of inner city hotels and perhaps of party donors.
    To paraphrase and reverse a political saying of years ago ‘It is not the economy – it’s the virus.

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Hi Paul, thanks for the comments. The WHO has said that lockdowns should be a last resort when your public health system is at risk of being overwhelmed, as lockdowns have some offsetting adverse public health impacts (e.g. mental health, domestic violence) partly related to their economic impacts:
      I think lockdowns can play a role if we really need them, but I’d prefer we try to control the spread with contact tracing and testing and possibly a mask mandate before we impose lockdowns. I’m very happy to wear a mask.

      Re. quarantine, I think your remote quarantining idea is an excellent one. I guess quarantining in inner city hotels is the path of least resistance and obviously much lower cost than quarantining somewhere remote. They’re easy for police and Queensland Health supervisory staff to get to. I have a couple of quarantine hotels just up the road, at the Mantra and Grand Chancellor (where the UK strain escaped from) on Wickham Terrace. They have police officers on site all the time.

      • Paul says:

        Thanks Gene
        The WHO has lost a lot of scientific credibility in the scientific/medical community over its behaviour in the Covid 19 pandemic – about as knowledgeable and trustworthy as a Trump tweet. Advice from our own scientists and medicos is much more reliable as they are much more professional than UN bureaucrats. I have seen no evidence of increased suicide rates from lock-downs. Equally one could assert that road accidents/deaths reduce due to lock-downs but I have not seen evidence of that either.

        Without lock downs the virus spreads and more people die from the virus or from delayed treatment from from treatable conditions due to overloaded hospitals. Lock downs work viz Victoria from 700 new cases a day to zero. The virus increases at an exponential rate and if nothing was done (ie no lock-down) there would be tens of thousands of cases and thousands of deaths in Victoria by now.

        Re: hotel quarantine. Virus researchers work in fully enclosed spacesuit like gear with air locks, absolute microbiological level air conditioning filters etc such as CSIRO’s Geelong high security facility.
        There is no way they would just wear a mask when dealing with dangerous infectious viruses. There is a world of difference between that and quarantine in a commercial hotel. Wearing a mask does not stop transmission it just reduces the probability of transmission and the amount of inoculum of the virus you are likely to get (which can reduce your chances of becoming infected). It just takes one hotel worker/policeman to become infected and who can then spread that to their friends and family etc and then we have community transmission and the only way to stop that is immediate lock-down. Those hotel workers and police with nothing but a mask to protect them are at risk. To stop transmission one has to stop people mixing and the only way to do that is by lock-down (shelter-in-place).

        Contact tracing takes time during which the virus can spread and does not necessarily include everyone who could have been infected. It is not an alternative to lock down. It is just another additional tool to use when there are small numbers involved. Victoria showed lock-downs work. The earlier the better given the exponential rate of spread of the virus. Sure there is an economic cost from lock-downs in a pandemic but we can’t eliminate the virus by half measures or silly cheapskate measures – as the hotel quarantine fiasco has shown both in Queensland and Victoria. That it still continues is a disgrace.

        I would suggest not going anywhere near those quarantine hotels or their staff/police even with a mask.

  7. Murray says:

    Very reasonable questions very few are asking Gene. Balanced, rational policy taking all factors into account is usurped by simple single factor expediency. The political class is flexing its authoritarian muscle, seeing little if any need to justify or explain draconian restrictions, let alone acknowledge, much less quantify, the health, welfare and economic costs of lockdowns and threats and uncertainty about further lockdowns. We the people are become sheep and our children lambs with a reduced life expectancy and quality.

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