How NSW and Victoria arrived at two different road maps

© Getty In Victoria, cabinet ministers believe the Andrews’ government’s prospects at the next election are tied to its ability to chart a more cautious approach which they maintain is favoured by voters.

The desire of NSW health officials to focus on the effect of the vaccine rollout on that state’s outbreaks could explain why its plan to ease coronavirus restrictions differs from Victoria’s road map out of lockdown.

One of the co-authors of the Burnet Institute modelling that informed both states’ road maps, Professor Margaret Hellard, told The Age the faster vaccine rollout, specifically in COVID-19 hotspots was “super important” for NSW health officials when commissioning modelling for their route out of lockdown.

She said Victorian health authorities were “much clearer” about what they wanted from modelling, but declined to expand on specific requests.

“Different jurisdictions will ask us to look at different things that are critical to them as they’re thinking about what they’re doing,” Professor Hellard said.

In addition to differences in the modelling, MPs from both NSW and Victoria have told The Age that political motivations also helped shaped the pathways out of lockdown, which will see Victorians forced to wait up to a month longer for some freedoms granted to NSW residents from early October.

Under Victoria’s road map, home visits will be banned and gyms and swimming pools will remain shut until 80 per cent of residents have received two doses of coronavirus vaccine.

By contrast, vaccinated residents in NSW will be allowed to travel around the state, have friends and family visit their homes and attend theatres and cinemas when the state hits the 70 per cent double-dose target, which is expected to be on October 9.

Bars, restaurants and cafes will be limited to takeaway only until October 26 when Victoria is expected to hit its 70 per cent double dose target. Only then will venues be allowed to provide an outdoor dining service.

For indoor dining, Victorian restaurants and cafes will have to wait until 80 per cent of the state’s residents are fully vaccinated, which isn’t expected to be until early November. A density quotient of one person per four square metres will remain in place.

Amid rising criticism from the business community about Victoria’s slow and steady approach to easing restrictions, Professor Hellard said the two strategies implemented by NSW and Victoria were not “markedly dissimilar”, claiming the two states are following similar paths.

“In essence they are all pretty much saying the same thing – that you need to get really high levels of vaccination to get control of the pandemic,” Professor Hellard said.

“Though the road maps might look a little different in some things, they’re not markedly different.”

Inside the NSW government, MPs believe Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s is partly framed by internal pressures, with several cabinet ministers lobbying for eased restrictions.

In Victoria, cabinet ministers believe the Andrews’ government’s prospects at the next election are tied to its ability to chart a more cautious approach which they maintain is favoured by voters.

“We know businesses are frustrated, but we have continually said we follow the health advice and now it’s part of our political brand,” one Victorian minister said, commenting on the condition of anonymity.

“People have different expectations of us here, they don’t want us to rush out as fast as NSW is.”

Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive Wes Lambert slammed the Victorian government’s reopening plan saying it had left Victorian businesses “shattered” and “confused”.

“We are very disappointed,” Mr Lambert said. “Businesses were left flabbergasted that at 70 per cent vaccination rates they get outdoor dining outdoor only and are screaming that it should be at least the same as NSW.”

“The hospitality sector was left scratching their heads at the modelling behind the extremely strict easing which will leave many businesses closed until November.”

Several other industry groups, speaking to The Age on the condition of anonymity, expressed frustration at the Victorian government’s approach, claiming that their pleas to reopen sooner were ignored.

“With Victoria it always seems as they are only willing to consult once they have their decision,” one industry boss said.

While each state is commissioning its own independent modelling to help craft a plan to safely ease restrictions, all states and territories have agreed to follow a four-phase reopening plan based on modelling from the Doherty Institute provided to national cabinet, which recommended a staggered reopening once 70 per cent of people aged over 16 are fully vaccinated.

Victoria’s reopening plan, which was described as “cautious” by Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday, is based on modelling that predicts the state will reach a peak of about 4500 daily cases in mid-December, with a peak in hospital admissions towards the end of December.

When asked to explain the slower approach on Monday, Mr Andrews said it was not possible at this stage for Victoria to ease restrictions faster than planned, but said health officials would assess the easing of restrictions in NSW.

“We do have this unique opportunity … to watch and see what happens [in NSW] because they are ahead of us, they got more vaccines,” he said.

“That’s not a criticism, it’s just a fact.”

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