Daniel Andrews did not seek Brett Sutton's advice on ending the pandemic declaration

Daniel Andrews did not seek Brett Sutton’s advice on ending the pandemic declaration

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Declaring a pandemic is the legal tool required to give the health minister the power to order people to stay at home, businesses and classrooms to close positive cases for isolation.

As the laws are being written, it is the government’s responsibility to show why they need these extraordinary powers to respond to the pandemic, not why they don’t. “Legalization is proactive,” Patten said. “The declaration ceases to exist unless the prime minister presents the case he needs.”

The upshot is that the unprecedented public health response that began in March 2020 and culminated in Melbourne spending 262 days in lockdown, has ended in a benship, with no parliamentary scrutiny and little public debate.

While the lifting of the pandemic declaration has been widely welcomed by business groups, the absence of Sutton and his public health team from this important final decision will create uneasiness among people who, since the pandemic began, have taken comfort in repeated government assurances that he always follows advice Public Health.

“I think it is very strange that after two and a half years of having the Central Executive Committee together with the prime minister, the government is now not asking for his advice,” said opposition health spokeswoman Georgi Crozier.

“Technically, the prime minister doesn’t have to, but you think he would.”

Daniel Andrews at last month’s meeting of the National Cabinet.attributed to him:Alex Ellinghausen

Andrews’ decision not to seek CHO advice widens the gap between Victoria’s public health leadership and the government about where ongoing pandemic situations should be.

Previously published advice by Deputy Chief Health Officer Ben Cui showed that the government did not act on his advice to reintroduce mask mandates in schools, early learning centers and retail outlets at the start of this year’s winter wave.

Sutton’s recent tweet warning him against “sleepwalking to COVID” indicates that he does not support the national cabinet’s decision to forgo mandatory isolation — a decision made without interference from top state health officials — and thus, lift the pandemic declaration.

University of Melbourne public health expert Nathan Grylls, while not critical of the decision to end declaring the pandemic, has questioned the process the government has followed.

“I think something is missing if they don’t consult their chief health officer, who has been responsible, through the pandemic, for carrying out emergency health orders,” he said.

“The government need not only take the advice of the chief health official – they can consult other departments and interests to make a final decision. But it would be unwise not to at least consult the CHO and take their advice into account.”

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Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said the absence of formal advice from Sutton was only a problem if it reflected a larger communication gap between the public health team and the health secretary’s office.

“I’d be relieved if we knew there was good communication,” she said. “Do you have to write him a rule book, ‘We have to talk to this person,’ when that person is accountable to the Minister of Health on a very regular basis?”

Andrews said on Wednesday that although the pandemic declaration was “pivotal as to whether it was a pandemic in the legal sense,” COVID remained. He urged people to follow the CHO’s advice on getting tested, staying home when sick, and keeping up with vaccinations.

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