The federal government has stressed that effective contact tracing in Victoria is now “the most important task” Australia faces in its response to the coronavirus.
In separate statements on Sunday, senior government ministers and deputy chief medical officer Professor Michael Kidd all rammed that point home.
“The Commonwealth stands ready to provide further assistance with contact tracing in Victoria, which is now arguably one of the most important tasks in Australia, if not the most important task in Australia,” Prof Kidd said.
“With improved contact tracing, the current timeframe out of lockdown could be accelerated.
“It is essential that every new case of COVID-19 is being followed up every single day so that we can prevent further transmission of the virus.
“The work of the contact tracers, especially NSW and Queensland, continues to be very strong. The automation of the contact tracing system in Victoria is very welcome, as is the continuing support being provided by members of the Australian Defence Forces.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt released a joint statement on Sunday afternoon, which was just as full of praise for New South Wales’ contact tracing system.
“As Professor Tony Blakely, one of the lead Victorian modellers has suggested, of critical importance is that Victoria’s contact tracing is strengthened to the highest possible levels,” the statement said.
“In NSW, this has enabled the Berejiklian government to respond to multiple outbreaks while permitting businesses and people to carry out their daily lives in a COVIDSafe way. This is the way forward.
“Restrictions are not substitutes for strengthening health systems to cope with the virus, especially when community outbreak is brought under control.
“The most effective means of reducing community transmission must be an effective testing, tracing and quarantine system, bolstered by enhanced local health capacity and physical distancing. These are essential prerequisites to reduce the spread, save lives and manage the economic and job impacts.”
The media release described Victoria’s newly announced roadmap for easing restrictions as “crushing”, saying it would result in job losses.
The epidemiology expert that statement cited, Prof Blakely, was one of the authors of modelling released by the Victorian government on Saturday.
That modelling found easing restrictions when the average daily case figure is still above 25 would lead to a 60 per cent chance of the state returning to lockdown before Christmas.
“If we do our contact tracing better than we did three months ago, the contact tracers may be able to hold the case count without it going up again as badly as our model suggests,” Prof Blakely said over the weekend.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews was asked about the Prime Minister’s statement – and its seemingly critical tone – during his appearance on The Project on Sunday night.
“Well, you need to speak to the Prime Minister about the words he chooses in media releases,” Mr Andrews said.
“I spoke to him this morning before I made these announcements Our partnership is a very important one, no time for politics in this.
“Prime ministers and premiers need to be focused on the job at hand and that’s not trying to interpret media releases.”
Mr Andrews also downplayed the comparisons being drawn between NSW and Victoria.
“There is a very big difference between NSW and Victoria’s experience with this virus,” he stressed.
“There is much more community transmission here, and therefore our tolerances need to be much lower.”