ABC presenter Dr Norman Swan has rejected suggestions NSW controlled its coronavirus outbreak through better management than Victoria, saying instead the state got “lucky”.
Dr Swan was responding to criticism of Victoria by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and former chief medical officer Brendan Murphy, who have held up NSW’s contact tracing as the “gold standard”.
“NSW isn’t the gold standard,” Dr Swan said on ABC News Breakfast this morning.
“NSW is lucky. NSW got down to low levels of circulating virus and one or two cases came in from Victoria and spread. And yes, it’s been a problem, and they have managed to get on top of it. When you only have a few cases, then you can actually deploy your contact tracing system more effectively.”
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But Dr Swan conceded Victoria was playing “catch-up” with its system, which has been struggling to keep on top of cases compared with the more decentralised NSW model that operates across local government health districts.
“Just remember, in 2009 – I know Victorians hate when I start saying this – during the flu pandemic, Victoria stopped testing … because their public health system couldn’t cope with it,” Dr Swan said.
“And not a lot was invested after that in the Victorian system. So they’re playing catch-up. Brendan Murphy knows the Victorian system deeply. When you hear these comments, what you’re seeing is nervousness. Even though you have 2500 people working their hearts out, this is not their fault, but they’re working in the system that’s playing catch-up.”
Commenting on Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ controversial road map out of lockdown, which has sparked a war of words with the Federal Government, Dr Swan said opening up too quickly was a “powder keg waiting to blow up”.
“If you just clear away all the debate, the aim has to be to get as little virus circulating in Victoria as is possible, and the cut-off that you choose is a bit arbitrary,” he said.
“It’s not plucking it out of nowhere, they have done modelling, but it’s a bit arbitrary. That’s the aim, to get as little virus circulating as possible, and you match that level with the level of people coming forward for testing and then contact tracing. And that’s what you’ve got to modulate.”
He added the modelling had to take into account whether people would continue social distancing. “If people are socially distancing and really going along with that, as you come out, and staying with that behaviour, then you can actually cope with probably a slightly larger number of cases,” he said.
“The risk is you’re sitting on a powder keg that could blow up. Britain started to relax at 200 cases a day and now they’re at 18,000. Israel relaxed too early as well. Singapore had an outbreak but they relaxed … at about five to 10 cases a day. Korea has a big problem with that church group now. But they’ve been managing with a steady state of 200 a day.”
The difference in South Korea, according to Dr Swan, was “they’ve got a lot of infrastructure there”. “People are coping with apps on their phone, geolocation, that we probably wouldn’t tolerate,” he said. “So it’s the infrastructure that goes around it.”
Victoria today recorded 55 new COVID-19 cases and eight deaths. It comes after 41 new cases were recorded on Monday, the lowest daily increase since 41 cases were reported on June 28.