The devastation of Victoria’s second Covid-19 wave could have been lessened if residents had started wearing masks earlier and been plunged into stage 4 lockdown sooner, according to the state’s former deputy chief health officer.
Professor Allen Cheng made the explosive claim on Wednesday in an interview with ABC’s Virginia Trioli upon reflection of his 12-month secondment with the Department of Health.
After finishing in the role last month, Professor Cheng said two of his biggest regrets during his stint were not mandating masks earlier and not starting stage 4 restrictions in Victoria sooner.
“To have lockdown a lot earlier than we did then … I guess that would’ve been the thing that we might’ve done differently last year,” he said.
“This time last year we weren’t entirely sure how effective masks were … but clearly it’s something that turned out to be quite good and something we’re still using now.”
Camera IconFormer Victoria deputy chief health officer Allen Cheng finished with the Department of Health at the end of June. NCA NewsWire / Sarah Matray Credit: News Corp Australia
Professor Cheng said decisions about lockdown were “huge” and admitted they were tough calls that he would “agonise over”.
He even revealed one conversation with Premier Daniel Andrews moments before Victoria was plunged into harsh stage 4 Covid-19 restrictions in August last year.
It was the month with the state’s biggest single-day peak of 725 cases on August 5.
Camera IconMelbourne suffered some of the country’s toughest virus restrictions in August 2020 where infections soared past 700. NCA NewsWire / David Crosling Credit: News Corp Australia
On top of four reasons to leave home Melburnians were also hit with a curfew and ordered to stay at home from 8pm to 5am every day unless they were seeking medical care, providing care or working.
“When I first had that conversation with the Premier that we probably needed to move into stage 4 restrictions or something more than we were he said, ‘That’s a billion-dollar-a-week decision, are you really sure about that?’” Professor Cheng said.
“I said, ‘I think I’ll go away and think about it a bit more’ – I’m very conscious that they were very difficult decisions to make and would impact on 6.6 million people.”
Camera IconVictoria is grappling with its fifth lockdown since the pandemic began. NCA NewsWire / Daniel Pockett Credit: News Corp Australia
On Victoria’s current outbreak and fifth lockdown since the pandemic started, Professor Cheng said the state’s situation was “delicately poised”.
“The number of cases where we don’t know where they got the infections from is pretty low,” he said.
“Now what we’re worried about is of the people who have had infection some of them were infectious in the community, and can we get our arms around those cases.”
Professor Cheng has resumed his usual duties as a physician at Alfred Health and academic at Monash University.
Victoria recorded 22 new locally acquired infections on Wednesday.
Health authorities confirmed all 22 cases were linked to existing outbreaks that have stemmed from NSW.