Here we are again with our hearts in our throats

The Age’s editor, Gay Alcorn, writes an exclusive newsletter for subscribers on the week’s most important stories and issues. Sign up here to receive it every Friday.

Friday, February 12

I am writing this with my heart in my throat. These are some thoughts racing through my head. Here we go again. No, we’re all OK. It’s only five days. We are a resilient community and we can do this. We have learned from the more than 100-day harsh lockdown last year. Our health professionals are first-rate. Keep things in perspective. It’s a new UK strain of the virus that is extremely infectious – up to 70% more than earlier variants – and it is inevitable it will escape from hotel quarantine, as it did recently in Queensland and Western Australia.

But was it inevitable? Is the government telling us all they know? And should highly infectious people be quarantined in big cities’ hotels when, with just one or two infectious people travelling around, thousands or millions are potentially exposed?

Let’s say I’m an anxious Melburnian, and I am lucky. I don’t have parents in aged care, I don’t run a small business that has faced opening and shutting, opening and shutting. I have spoken to many people interstate who sense that Victorians are jumpier than others. Last year was emotional and we carry some scars. It is likely that the mental health impacts for many of us will be long-lasting.

In October, The New York Times reported that Melburnians were emerging from “one of the world’s longest and most severe lockdowns…feeling both traumatised and euphoric after weeks of shared sacrifice”.

We are not back there, and hopefully what Premier Daniel Andrews says is a “circuit breaker” to avoid a long third lockdown will prove true. But we don’t know, and the human brain does seem to crave certainty and likes to dwell on what could go wrong. As a citizen, let me make a plea to our politicians. Don’t use this as an opportunity to nitpick or to divide. And tell us the truth.

As an editor, I am acutely aware of the responsibility of The Age during times like this. Our first duty is to our subscribers and readers. My instinct is that people want clear and reliable information, without spin and without fearmongering. What are the rules, how does my family stay safe? What will it mean for my business? We attempt to answer as many questions from you as we can – and they are pouring in. Do come to our live blog for reliable information. Send us your questions here, and we will do our best to answer them. If we do not know the answer, we will try to find out.

Our second responsibility is to dig for information on your behalf, to hold governments and authorities accountable without “blaming” on scant evidence. We are not interested in gotcha journalism but there are questions that need answers. Two days ago, the Premier was pronouncing that Victoria could not take as many overseas arrivals as NSW because our system had “higher standards”. Really? We now have 13 cases from the Holiday Inn cluster with 10 of them being community transmission.

Victorians are not stupid – we know that people are fallible and that handling this virus is hideously difficult. And we know that health professionals are working their hearts out. But it is fair enough to ask whether we have learned all we can from the hotel quarantine mistakes from the first time around. Health experts have been arguing for some time to boost protective equipment for quarantine workers, including providing hospital-grade masks.

Are there improvements still to be made? Is it time to completely rethink hotel quarantine? These are uncomfortable questions. I know that for some readers even asking them leads to angry allegations that we are biased or divisive. For other readers, no criticism of Andrews and the state government can be harsh enough. It’s a balancing act, but we do strive to strike that balance.

So we stay home again, reacquainting ourselves with “stage four” restrictions. We venture out in masks to shop or exercise. We stick to our suburbs. We hope the supermarket shelves don’t get stripped. Our emotions go up and down, our mood dependent on the daily numbers. We hope for the best and if we are religious, no doubt we pray. I know for some of you it is much harder than for others. You will be in my mind as I work through this weekend, and catch up on a spot of tennis when I get a chance. Stay safe Victoria.

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