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They say it's better to be lucky than good - Annastacia Palaszczuk may be both

Opinion

The COVID-19 infection spike in Victoria is a reminder that we are still in the baby steps stage of this nascent crisis, writes Dennis Atkins

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Everywhere you went during the first weekend of July, there was a common refrain. “Aren’t we lucky to be in Queensland!”

The easy-going parochialism of Queenslanders is as well known as it is the butt of jokes from sometimes sneering southerners – or Mexicans as they are often called.

Now we reckon we’re the people with the smug smile, although everyone acknowledges our relative safety and healthy security is seen against a truly awful turn of events in Victoria, where community transmission of COVID-19 is out of control.

We also should not forget that we are not immune to what’s occurring in Victoria, where residents in parts of Melbourne are either under control orders minimising their movement and activity or, as is the case in nine public housing towers, locked down hard with no one allowed out of their homes.

The situation in Victoria is a brutally necessary reminder that this incredibly infectious virus is still with us and can easily and quickly get out of control if systems break down or individuals are careless in following community protocols.

The consequences of a breakout in infections include businesses putting on hold efforts to open their doors and get back to at least a new normal. It’s an unwanted drag on an economy that might have come out of intensive care but is still in the high maintenance recovery ward.

The Federal Government and some states have sent resources to Victoria – mainly health workers – to help with the escalating and urgent tasks the new outbreak has made essential.

Of course, there is some self-satisfaction going with this turn of events – particularly here in Queensland and in South Australia.

Premiers in those states, Annastacia Palaszczuk and Steven Marshall, were subject to criticism when they said last week they would open their borders to all states but Victoria.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has played politics hard in his persistent attacks (either by himself or his surrogates) on the Queensland premier, expressed his displeasure with those two states for keeping the “closed” sign up for Victorians.

Now he’s one of the three leaders – along with Gladys Berejiklian from New South Wales and Victoria’s Daniel Andrews – giving the green light to shutting the border.

Palaszczuk was quick to issue a measured but pointed statement. “We have had to make tough decisions for the health and wellbeing of Queenslanders which included closing our borders,” she said.

“We will continue to listen to the advice of our Chief Health Officer. Last week we made the decision to maintain the border closure with Victoria.

“I welcome today’s decision to close the border between NSW and Victoria. We will continue to provide support to Victoria as they continue to deal with their COVID-19 response.”

Berejiklian provided a quite galling observation when she scrambled for a distinction between her position of a week ago – urging Queensland and other states to open their borders – and the volte-face of Monday when she sought cover for becoming a border closer.

The NSW Premier said it was now about community transmission while her previous statements were made at a time when infections were found in cases where people were returning travellers from overseas.

Berejiklian said her new position made it even more imperative for other states to open their borders. Give us, the people of Queensland, a break.

We’ve been lectured week after week, told by the senior Commonwealth health officials there was no health reason to close borders. Now those same health officials are saying the agreement to close the NSW/Victoria border is the right thing to do, on health grounds.

Perhaps, behind these shifting positions is an inconvenient fact. Australia has handled the health emergency that’s COVID-19 very well, in almost a class of its own.

However, we let that success lead us down the road of complacency and self-satisfaction. We thought we’d accomplished the mission when we hadn’t.

This is why what’s happening in Melbourne is a very important wake-up call that should remind people they can’t drop their guard on the personal behaviour and hygiene standards we were told just months ago were essential.

It’s also a reminder to all governments that we are still in the baby steps stage of this nascent crisis.

The Prime Minister last week said we couldn’t flick the economic switch on and off in Victoria or anywhere else. Now he’s agreed to closing a state border, something he had claimed previously was unjustified.

The outbreak of infections we’re seeing in Victoria looks like the bullet we thought we had dodged in the March to June period. We hadn’t dodged the bullet. We just took our eyes off it.

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