Prime Minister Scott Morrison has warned that the decision by the Victorian government to extend its harsh lockdown will come at a cost to both the state and the national economy, with expected further job losses.
But Premier Daniel Andrews defended the plan, saying the state had no choice but to proceed cautiously because there was too great a risk of setting off a potential third wave of infections and deaths.
“This will cause pain. It absolutely will. But it is the only option that we have,” Andrews said on Sept. 6 at a press conference.
In a joint statement with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt, Morrison said the proposed roadmap for the Victorian government would come at a further economic cost from its harsh restrictions.
“The continued restrictions will have a further impact on the Victorian and national economy, in further job losses and loss of livelihoods, as well as impacting on mental health,” they said.
Under the plan of State Labor, Metropolitan Melbourne will be subjected to another two weeks of hard lockdown, though with some small concessions, before the government begins to look for “trigger points” of reductions in the daily average number of cases to make further easing.
The plan for Melbourne and regional Victoria sets a course toward so-called “COVID normal” when no new cases have occurred for 28 days and there are no active cases—and which Andrews agrees might not be until December.
“Until we contain this (virus) properly we cannot open up,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
“If we did that, we wouldn’t be opening up at all, we would simply begin a third wave, one that would do even more damage than this pandemic has already done.”
Deputy federal Labor leader and Victorian MP Richard Marles said he understood it was a frustrating time for Victorians.
“The health advice that Premier Andrews outlined shows we can’t run out of the strict restrictions or we’ll be back in a strict lockdown by the end of the year,” he told AAP.
But the Australian Industry Group has condemned the roadmap, saying it only prolongs the pain.
“Today’s so-called Victorian roadmap to recovery is a document of despair for industry and their employees,” Ai Group chief executive Innes Willox said.
“It is now clear that as a result of state government decisions, actions and failures, Victoria will be an economic basket case and a drag on the national economy for years.”
Economists are worried, given that Victoria accounts for 25 per cent of national production, and its slow return to normality is likely to continue to weigh on the Australian economy, now in recession.
Business council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said further compromises should be made because there could be light at the end of the tunnel.
“The longer the road out of this, the harder it will be for the state and the nation to recover, get people back to work and create new jobs,” she said.
Australia ‘s national death toll is now 753, after 63 new cases and five more deaths were reported by Victoria on Sept. 6, bringing the number of state fatalities to 666.
In the southern state, daily case numbers have been moving steadily down in recent weeks, and are now often below 100.