Victorian progress offers hope for more national unity in tackling COVID-19

After growing pressure from Canberra and the business community, Premier Daniel Andrews has finally relented. On Sunday, he will offer up a plan for lifting the state out of its strict lockdown. The Age welcomes the decision, not just for Victorians but for the nation as a whole.

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison's national cabinet first met in mid-March, the state and territory leaders were dealing with similar numbers of daily COVID-19 cases. While border restrictions have always been a bone of contention, more often than not the cabinet was able to come to a collective agreement on policy fronts. The pandemic delivered political unison across the aisle rarely seen in this country.

The second surge of COVID-19 cases in Victoria has put enormous strain on that unison. As most Australians were having restrictions lifted, Melburnians in particular were confronted with tougher lockdown measures. This brought Australia's second-largest city to a grinding halt, with NAB predicting the state's economy could contract by as much as 9.2 per cent, equating to a $41 billion hit.

As federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg's growing frustration has made evident, the Victorian situation is going to have an enormous impact on the bottom line for all Australians. So when Mr Andrews fronts up to set a pathway to reopening the state's economy, he is in many respects offering the whole nation a glimpse of the possibilities ahead.

Once the threat of a large outbreak in Victoria has been downgraded, bringing the state back into line with the rest of Australia, this should provide the rationale for discussions towards reopening many of the borders. It should also re-energise talks with New Zealand for implementing a trans-Tasman travel bubble. Such a shift would offer some much-needed hope that domestic and a limited amount of international tourism could return. It would also provide enormous relief to the many people who rely on crossing borders for a living or who live near those borders.

It would also be hoped the lessons learnt from the bungled hotel quarantine program in Victoria provide the basis for a more secure system. This would enable not only more Australians to return home from overseas, but offer more confidence that the trial bringing international university students back into South Australia will work and can be extended to all capital cities.

Once Victoria does gets its infection rates back to daily numbers in the single digits, NSW should provide an exemplary case study in how to manage future COVID-19 outbreaks, as it has managed to keep a tight rein on its tally. And the Coalition will no longer have an excuse not to start rolling out the policy framework needed to revive the Australian economy.

So when Mr Andrews stands at the podium this weekend and presents his blueprint for gradually removing restrictions in Victoria, all Australians should tune in. It has often been said that "we" are all in this crisis together. For the past few weeks, as Melburnians have been forced to stay home or close by, this has clearly not been the case.

Note from the Editor

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When Victoria does finally put its second wave behind it, as it appears it soon will, then the rest of the nation should breathe a sigh of relief. Such progress should offer hope that once again the nation can tackle the pandemic as one. And that is surely a good news story.

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