Finance Michael Pascoe: Gladys Berejiklian gives us the COVID definition of insanity
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Michael Pascoe: Gladys Berejiklian gives us the COVID definition of insanity

Gladys Berejiklian lockdown tactics
It would be a brave Sydney soul to be making plans for September or October, Michael Pascoe writes. Photo: TND
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“Based on those numbers we can only assume that things are likely to get worse before they get better given the quantity of people infectious in the community,” the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said on Thursday – and could have said every day for the past five weeks.

But for anyone paying attention, there was no need to say it.

We knew, just as we knew August would be another month of lockdown a week or two before Gladys Berejiklian announced it.

That knowledge only made the past week more annoying as the inevitability was coyly dodged, hinted at, and then leaked on Tuesday evening before being made official on Wednesday.

And now, with 239 new locally acquired cases in 24 hours, most of them from unknown sources, it would be a brave Sydney soul to be making plans for September – or October for that matter under current conditions.

It doesn’t matter that Einstein didn’t say it, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a fair definition of some type of insanity.

That’s what the past few weeks of NSW government media conferences have looked like.

Gladys Berejiklian extends lockdown
Little has changed in terms of messaging at NSW government media conferences for weeks.

The incremental imposition of restrictions followed by a little loosening here and a little further tightening there with results not getting any better undermines confidence in management, as does the opaque nature of “the medical advice” at both state and federal levels and the inability to admit mistakes.

Yes, there are particularly obtuse and stupid people – as displayed on Sky After Dark and on Sydney’s streets last Saturday – but the vast majority of us understand that, yes, governments and medicos have had to make it up as they’ve gone along, as the pandemic and knowledge have evolved.

We allow for that – as long as we can believe premiers and chief medical officers are straight with us. Politicians pushing hopes and prayers instead of unpleasant reality become particularly frustrating.

We now know the outcome of a massive and costly experiment: Faced with the Delta variant, you don’t muck around with incrementalism and hubris – you go with the hard and fast lockdown or pay a greater price measured in lives and more billions of dollars.

It has been an expensive lesson for Sydney and the nation. Admitting NSW was simply wrong, that the lesser states were right, would help restore credibility.

The federal government’s various stages of dissembling and denial, the sorry-not-sorry Prime Minister, haven’t helped either.

Scott Morrison NSW pandemic response
Scott Morrison admitted “responsibility” for the vaccine rollout after months of denial. Photo: AAP

And confidence is lessened by Mr Morrison revealing on Wednesday he had the Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity’s modelling on the vaccination levels required to end the need for lockdowns and “work was under way to combine that with Treasury predictions” before Friday’s national cabinet meeting.

Treasury’s predictions? Of what and for what purpose? Treasury, like everyone else in the economics trade, is not very good at making predictions about the stuff it’s meant to know about, let alone epidemiology.

“I don’t want to say that will be resolved on Friday … that will be our first discussion,” Mr Morrison reportedly said.

“I suspect many more will be required after that.”

Which means many more Prime Ministerial word salads between here and the hard answer.

Again, we already know.

We’d have to be very fortunate if everyone who wanted to be vaccinated was able to be vaccinated by Christmas. We’d have to be even more fortunate if that percentage was as high as 80 per cent.

With the outbreak providing a cattle prod, Sydney residents might achieve 80 per cent sooner than the nation, but there’s still plenty of lockdown ahead if the NSW government – under Gladys Berejiklian – is waiting for vaccinations to save Sydney from Delta.

The lockdown won’t be over at the end of next month.

It has turned out that NSW’s medical advice has not been superior to that of the other states. The majority has been proven right.

In light of that, it would be of passing interest to know on what medical advice the Berejiklian government decided locked-down Sydneysiders could have exercise areas four times that of Melburnians.

Was there any science involved or just a political desire to appear more, dare I say it, liberal?

Or did the government not realise a 10-kilometre radius meant 314 square kilometres – barely any restriction at all as long as the residents of south-west Sydney were kept away from the beaches?

Melbourne lockdown differences
Melburnians excelled with their lockdowns, despite tighter restrictions including exercise. Photo: AAP

That the radius has been belatedly reduced to Melbourne’s five kilometres for the worst-hit local government areas suggests there was not much science first time round.

Ditto the delay in mandating masks.

On Wednesday a broken tooth sent me to our dentist in Sydney’s central business district. Walking along Pitt Street, unmasked, were office types carrying their purchased lunches, complying with existing restrictions.

There is an alternative to the present level of restrictions dragging on for months, a possible way to bring COVID infections under control without waiting for 80 per cent vaccinations: A Kiwi-tough lockdown, as vicious and as hard as that is.

The business lobby and federal government would scream at the mere suggestion.

It won’t happen. The state government’s speedy response to the NSW construction industry’s bleating about its first brush with lockdown suggests Ms Berejiklian doesn’t have the political will to go much harder.

So we’ll continue to limp along like this with Delta for longer than any politician dares admit.

A Victorian-based niece told me she had been hoping to have a “Christmas in July” dinner.

I replied we were hoping to have a Christmas dinner at Christmas.

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