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Gladys Berejiklian flinched from pandemic-fighting measures taken by other state leaders but whatever kudos the New South Wales premier gathered from her stand is now diminishing.
Still she flinches. NSW people “should” wear masks indoors, the premier said on Thursday. This is mandatory again in Victoria.
There are few precautions more obvious and more readily adopted than mask wearing but the Berejiklian government simply “urges” it.
Melbourne grumpily waved the AFL grand final off to Brisbane. Sydney has been able to keep its new year third cricket Test, with some 24,000 on-ground spectators each day.
It is difficult to reconcile how having more than five guests at home for a one-night party is Covid-dangerous but having some 120,000 watching the five days of a cricket Test is no problem.
The premier says “if we need to re-evaluate some of our settings, update the compliance”, the Sydney Test might be abandoned. That seems unlikely.
Such inconsistencies in the Berejiklian approach were not starkly relevant or were ignored while NSW appeared to be doing better than its neighbours. That has changed.
The virus in NSW now is in danger spots from Gosford to Wollongong, Katoomba to Cronulla. What the state’s health chief calls “a bit of a rollercoaster ride” is far from over.
People from Sydney are not welcome in other states at the moment.
One consequence is confirmation that the pandemic can shrivel political laurels as it can ravage human health. Berejiklian might be the next victim.
It’s like a reverse Victoria. There is a growing questioning not of what NSW is doing but what it is not doing.
Berejiklian says her priority is community safety and the NSW government ought be saluted for its preparations. It was able to mobilise mass testing with little notice, and health services and staff have been superb faced with this latest round of Covid-19 transmissions.
The swiftness of the public response – close to 28,000 dutiful punters taking the trouble to be tested on the day to 8pm Wednesday night – was telling. It demonstrated a preparedness to accept tougher restrictions and precautions, measures Berejiklian held off from.
Undoubtedly she cares deeply about the safety of vulnerable citizens but she has also made clear her determination to preserve business as usual, whatever the virus might be doing.
The premier has been acclaimed a star by a cheer squad of political and economic observers who have condemned the actions of other leaders in their attempts to smother the virus.
On 17 December Scott Morrison enthusiastically – and prematurely – pumped up praise for Covid-19 management in NSW.
The prime minister told reporters: “NSW is the gold standard [of contact tracing]. I don’t spend too much time worrying about NSW.”
Morrison’s lauding of his home Coalition state was a sneering shot at the Labor administrations of Victoria and Queensland where the virus was met by restrictions that shredded some lifestyles and businesses.
It wasn’t merely a familiar bout of Morrison’s incautious political opportunism.
As he explained with a mixture of relief and pleasure, an “open” NSW had prevented the economy, and his government’s economic management credentials, from crashing even further: “Where other states faltered, NSW stood very strong.”
That was then. Berejiklian might be forced to undo NSW’s rescue of the economy to escape the current chain of transmissions. She might have to be a north-of-the-Murray Daniel Andrews.
On Thursday she acknowledged that not all premiers were fans of the Berejiklian approach.
The premier is aware she has been seen by critics as the wimp of the virus fighters and seemed content with that, and her determination not to impose “burdens”.
“I think it’s been evident during the course of the pandemic that every state leader, every territory leader, has had their own policies in place,” she told reporters in Sydney.
“Every state and territory is different, every government is different. Here in New South Wales, we always try and strike the right balance.
“This is a very unpredictable, contagious disease, but we also appreciate that we don’t want to put more burdens on our citizens than we need to. It’s a very fine line.”
The policy of the flinch.
• Malcolm Farr is a political journalist
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Whatever kudos Gladys Berejiklian has won from handling the pandemic, it’s diminishing | Gladys Berejiklian