Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Andrew Henshaw

Nobody likes being wrong - but get over it, Vic

When this nightmare is over at last, and hands can be shook and backs finally patted, the contact tracing team from NSW Health must be recognised and thanked for a job they have done extraordinarily well.

As numbers of new cases in Melbourne climbed during July and shot up in August, Sydneysiders held their breath, wondering when the bomb would go off here, too.

But here we are in September, with still no explosion in numbers. Every day brings new cases, but the vast majority are tied to known sources. The number of daily cases with an unknown source is minuscule.

It is an extraordinary success, and one that we hardly dare acknowledge just yet lest we jinx it. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison was right to refer to the contract tracing in NSW as the "gold standard". After the debacle of the Ruby Princess, NSW Health has done a sterling job; their efforts have enabled the return of a semblance of life-as-normal. If no vaccine proves to be a panacea, rigorous contact tracing will be the way we will have to live with this virus.

The blame game over Melbourne's tragic outbreak has focused on the failure of private security guards to keep returned travellers from staying in hotel quarantine, but those reports of guards sleeping on the job or sleeping with the hotel guests are a furphy in some ways, however appalling they may seem. The more significant failure occurred when daily case numbers first hit double figures, when exhaustive contract tracing could have kept the outbreak manageable. For whatever reason, the contact tracing efforts then were insufficient.

 

Testing at Sunbury on the Calder Freeway. Comparisons with NSW suggest it is what happens next - contact tracing - that make a big difference to transmission of COVID-19. Picture: Jay Town
Testing at Sunbury on the Calder Freeway. Comparisons with NSW suggest it is what happens next - contact tracing - that make a big difference to transmission of COVID-19. Picture: Jay Town

 

And so a team of experts from Victoria are on their way to Sydney to see what can be learnt from their NSW counterparts.

This is a delicate moment, because nobody likes to have their professional competence questioned, or be told their way is not the best way.

It's a scenario that anybody who has ever survived a corporate takeover can appreciate.

The success of this effort will be interesting because it won't necessarily turn on epidemiological expertise, or bureaucratic know-how. It will depend largely on emotional intelligence; the ability for all parties to put ego aside and approach the situation with an absolutely open mind.

For the Victorian team, that means forgoing a defensive reflex and realising even small things can affect outcomes. And for the NSW team, it means sharing their thoughts generously, not condescendingly, and not arrogantly assuming that what works in Sydney will automatically work in Melbourne.

The federal government can also assist, by easing back on their recent hectoring of the Victorian efforts. You can't shame someone into learning.

Australia as a whole needs this process to be productive. Everybody wants Victoria to succeed. Lives, and the economy, depend on it.

Originally published as Nobody likes being wrong - but get over it, Vic



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