“Can I say, our goose is cooked”

Today, for the first time since the beginning of this lockdown, I realised our goose is cooked. 

Those of you in regional NSW will have woken up to the news that masks must be worn outdoors in NSW. Previously, the rule was indoors, or in proximity to other people-snouts.

Outdoor mask wearing is the first restriction so far that is not based in strong health evidence. NSW’s CHO would not defend it on health grounds when questioned yesterday. The new rule was brought in at the request of NSW Police. 

To be clear, masks *do* limit transmission of SarsCov2 between people, somewhere in the order of 30-70%.  However, you can’t give it to yourself. The new rule means you can be fined up to $5k for standing, on your own, outdoors, without a mask on. 

It’s a small thing though, yes? And it’s only temporary? Probably. But this new rule indicates the beginning of the end for NSW’s lockdown. 

Gladys Berejiklian indicated that a curfew and outdoor masks were the ‘final measures’ NSW would take to curb the spread of SarsCov2, a subtle nod to the carping twitteratti who cite Melbourne’s successful lockdown last year. 

Melbourne had outdoor mask wearing and a curfew. The outbreak was contained. 

However, Victoria brought in one other measure; THEY PAID POOR PEOPLE TO STAY HOME FROM WORK. This is something the twitterati and chattering classes often overlook, because it does not affect them. 

The Victorian government realised, like NSW Health has acknowledged, that most transmission occurs in workplaces.  Sick people and their contacts were continuing to go to work because they had no choice. 

Victoria introduced payments so they could stay at home. It worked. 

NSW’s ‘final measures’ do not include payments to stay at home. This is why the outbreak remains mostly confined to Sydney’s boiler room. Outdoor masks and curfews may limit some spread. They will not reduce the outbreak if the main cause of transmission is not addressed.

Premier Berejiklian’s outdoor mask rule is performative authoritarianism in response to political pressure from the Federal government, who are in turn, deflecting her criticisms about the slow vaccine roll out. 

We are told the outdoor mask rule ‘sends a message’ – blaming citizens for ‘not doing the right thing’. 

If you had to choose between buying food for your kids or going to work with a cough, which is ‘the right thing?’ Poor people aren’t naughty or stupid.  They don’t need ‘another strong message’ to remind them they are in a lockdown. 

The outdoor mask and curfew send a very different message;

  1. this government will not introduce the only measure proven to work against containing the virus – paying sick people to stay home. It has given up on the outbreak in NSW and is now focusing on vaccination. 
  2. The punitive ‘final measures’ attribute blame firmly onto citizens, to deflect from the government’s lack of management. If we are squabbling between ourselves, dobbing and arguing while hiding from cops, apparently we won’t notice the absence of leadership.
  3. Berejiklian’s time is up. She is making political, rather than evidenced-based, decisions to illustrate to the political classes that she is ‘doing something’. 

This is a dangerous move for Berejiklian. The Premier has mistaken her constituents’ willingness to pull together and get something really great done for a love of performative authoritarianism.  Punitive measures only work if the majority understand why they exist. So far, the measures have been difficult but defensible on public health grounds. Until now. 

With a heightened public awareness of Ggovernment control, thanks to paranoid stats-bros on instagram et al, this is not the time to be cavalier with the NSW Government’s increased powers. Measures must be rigorously defensible and based in evidence (as they have been up till yesterday). 

No-one in Western NSW has forgotten the last time the government gave themselves ‘special powers’ and the military rolled into communities a la, The Intervention, all on the basis of a concocted moral panic of an ‘epidemic of sexual abuse of children’.

This is a very, very silly game.

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