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Embarrassing bungles that even a bunch of armchair experts could have avoided

Opinion

We’re all Covid armchair experts by now, with our own view on how governments could have better handled the pandemic. Robert MacDonald details his biggest gripe.

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We’re all armchair Covid experts by now.

We all have our own ideas about what our political leaders should have done better to steer us through the pandemic.

My biggest gripe is the Palaszczuk Government’s regular, utter failure to consider the logistics, deliverability and consequences of so many of its big “we’re-protecting-the-people-of-Queensland” decisions.

The Federal Government hasn’t been any better – from its early delays in organising vaccines to its lack of forward thinking about what the removal of pandemic restrictions might have on Australia’s essential workforce.

But let’s stick to Queensland and, to take just one example, its handling of border openings.

When Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk declared the wall would finally come down by Christmas, but only if visitors were tested within 72 hours before they arrived and again within five days after arriving, did a single soul in the government think how this might work in the real world?

Clearly not.

They obviously didn’t speak to other state governments to see if they could accommodate the inevitable sudden surge in testing demands from stranded Queenslanders and tourists trying to get into the state after two years of lockdown.

The result was hours-long queues, system crashes all over the place and the crowding out of genuinely sick citizens trying to do the right thing.

“I think no one estimated 400,000 people would apply to come to Queensland,” Palaszczuk said, presumably by way of explanation.

What did she think was going to happen? Queensland lives off tourism –six million or so interstate visitors in a good year – and finally, the gates were open again.

And whatever brains trust there might be in the Queensland Government mustn’t have spent any time thinking about the logistics of people trying to get tested within five days of arriving, which for hundreds and thousands of visitors would have fallen between Christmas Day and New Year.

Actually, they did think about it, but not a lot.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath told The Courier-Mail in early December the Government had been working on how to handle the five-day rule test.

She admitted she didn’t know if private testing sites would be open on Christmas Day.

But never mind, she said. People could just get their test the day before or the day after. What a relief, and what a wonderful way to spend Christmas Eve or Boxing Day, queuing up for hours, to get a swab shoved up your nose.

The inevitable crowds appeared at Queensland’s public testing centres right after Christmas – interstate visitors diligently trying to do the right thing, getting the required five-day test.

Suddenly the testing system was overwhelmed and who was to blame? Not the State Government of course.

No, the Premier, according to media reports, blamed the closure of private clinics over Christmas for testing difficulties.

This was more than three weeks after Health Minister D’Ath had said in early December she didn’t know if the private clinics would be operating on Christmas Day.

Didn’t anyone in those intervening weeks think to call up Sullivan Nicolaides and the other private firms and ask them what their holiday season staffing plans were?

What was the State Government’s solution?

Simple. Just change the rules. What had been a carved-in-granite, keeping-Queensland-safe rule before Christmas – requiring visitors to get a PCR test within five days of arriving – was no longer necessary.

Had the science changed? Presumably not. But I’m guessing the polling had.

Palaszczuk foreshadowed her plan to re-open Queensland’s border before Christmas with the declaration that it was all about reuniting families.

“This is going to be a very, very special time of the year and as a government we’ve been very conscious of how important this is, to reunite families,” she said.

And so, Queensland opened its borders but with ultimately unmanageable testing requirements.

So unmanageable that visiting family members were spending frustrating days in queues rather than enjoying time with loved ones – not a good thing if you’re trying to keep voters onside.

Suddenly, whatever the pre-Christmas, keeping-Queensland-safe science might have insisted, visitors no longer needed to waste their days waiting in line for a test.

Just go and get a rapid antigen test instead the Government announced.

This after two years of governments, state and federal, insisting RATs weren’t up to scratch.

But, inevitably, no one – at state or federal level – had thought about making sure there were enough RATs to go around.

Which is where we are today and also, where I started.

If Governments make us do things for the common good, such as getting Covid tests, the very least they can do in return is make sure we can actually do what they’re asking us to do.

But that would require politicians and bureaucrats thinking through the logistics, deliverability and consequences of their big decisions.

And that’s a big ask.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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