I’m in a really bad state at the moment!
The events of this week are such that I had to blog my experience. If you are in Victoria then please don’t break down in total despair and try your best to see the funny side! It is fairly mundane and serious for the first third of this blog and then goes beyond the ridiculous and into the farcical as the days pass!
In the middle of May 2021 I would have said that things had settled down here in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and were getting back to normal. Normal for me is what most people would consider as “on edge” or in a recent medical referral stated “Past History: chronic stress”. That is ever since my family separation and my former spouse paid the air fares of a nut job that had a web page where he was trying to recruit mercenaries who harassed me relentlessly as outlined in my book.
Never the less, I went out to lunch on Sunday 23rd of May 2021 to catch up with a group of around 22 long term friends, something that happens around 3 times a year and took along a lady I have been seeing for some time (I will call her my girlfriend). Five of these friends I went through a boys secondary school with, one of which I met half way through primary school and most of them met their partners at the local dance at a youth center we attended and are still married. As many of the boys are now retired there is often additional catch ups with walks but I miss many of those walks as teach school kids swimming. I recall seeing and speaking to around 6 of them in the car park and the delay we encountered entering the building as we all registered our attendance with the QR code system where you submit your name and contact phone.
Monday (8 days after we had visited the hotel for lunch) the site was listed on the DHHS web site as someone with Coronavirus had visited and they classified the site as tier 2 which is get tested and isolate till you have your result! A curious member of the group just happened to be looking where the infection sites were and discovered it matched our catchup and the messages flowed within our group on WhatsApp and other methods. I believe every one of us got tested that day and had my test around 4:30 pm on my way home from helping out on a construction job (exempt from the general lockdown even though unpaid and voluntary). It was a job I was organising with a service club for an organisation that we have supported for years and provides meals and facilitates services for the homeless. Why we were not notified by the DHHS QR code system I still do not know! Tuesday we all stayed isolated until our test results were texted to us and it turned out we were a very negative bunch and a few jokes were made about associating with negative people leading to depression. Being negative, I got a few things at the supermarket and carried on with standard lockdown protocols. Late that night one of us got the call and was informed of a positive result. Around 10pm the message went out on our WhatsApp group so I saw it the next morning. I am informed that the testing laboratories would have rechecked it and hence the delay in him receiving the test result compared to his wife and the rest of us negative people. The organiser that booked the table was asked by tracers to collate all our names, addresses and contact phone into a table which he naturally did in a spreadsheet. I keep my address confidential and he guessed my street wrong and supplied no house number but the name and phone number were correct. He also noted in discussion or correspondence that my girlfriend was not able to be contacted as was now in New Zealand.
The alarm bells rang for the tracers. My girlfriend had gone to New Zealand just 2 days after the possible contact so she had been travelling around New Zealand for 7 days. An international transmission could have occurred and the Tasman Bubble could explode! They called me as clearly informed of who to ring for further information about my girlfriend who was not answering her Australian phone after three attempts (as phone off while overseas) and tried to establish her contact details. I was on Facebook messenger with her during the call and relayed the instructions for her to isolate while I was being interrogated. They confirmed the spelling of her name and also given her date of birth, sons phone number and were also informed she had already been tested as previously requested by the New Zealand Department of Health as soon as the outbreak was announced in Victoria, but that was several days ago. With those details DHHS call tracers were able to contact her within 20mins and they reiterated the instructions and informed her they would be notifying the New Zealand Department of Health. I managed to get one question answered during the interrogation which confirmed that I could not have transmitted to anyone between the time of the possible contact and when I was tested which returned the negative result (i.e. 4:30 pm Monday) but other questions were brushed away with “someone will get back to you” which of course never occurred. I was relieved as that meant all the kids I teach swimming and those at the gym had nothing to worry about! The swim center owner was also relieved as he was kept in the loop as was a friend at the gym! For the tracer, I was isolating and therefore irrelevant and the tracers’ mission was directed at maintaining good relations with New Zealand, ensure my girlfriend went back into isolation and inform her counterpart in New Zealand. Meanwhile, my friend with the positive result was being retested (more than once so the jokes like “mining lease in his nostrils seeking hidden gems” ensued) and his movements collated by DHHS (to his property in Anglesea). To me, it simply seemed implausible that:
Only 1 person on the table of 24 contracted the virus,
That we were not even in the beer garden with the infected person (which I put down as maybe both were getting drinks at the bar at the same time),
That my friend was asymptomatic (i.e. showed no symptoms),
That my friend had the first round of the vaccine a month before (which should make him less susceptible),
But mainly that it was reported to be the new Indian strain that is highly contagious and that in the 7 days since the contact, he had not infected his wife!
We were all sending messages wishing him well. Meanwhile the site was upgraded to tier 1 and all needed to quarantine for 14 days (regardless of our previous test result) and tested before the quarantine was over but it remained unclear when the retest was to be done.
Wednesday I saw the news services report the possible spread to Anglesea and must say I was appalled with the coverage on one news service.
The CHO saying he was surprised was in a well ventilated area (the Beer Garden) whereas we were inside and he ramped up the fleeting passerby contact scenario to drum up fear.
They showed a picture of an Anglesea Resort whereas he has a holiday house there so probably panicked everyone that had been at that resort.
Did not say he was being retested and checks being done.
That it was highly contagious strain but that his wife was negative.
Just everything to get the reaction and create fear for mass testing in Anglesea.
Thursday after 5pm he sent a message that the subsequent two swabs had been found to be negative, the first and original swab retested (as negative) and they have discovered “a glitch in the machine - first time ever” and determined he was a false positive and press release would happen shortly. I saw it on the news about an hour later.
What has puzzled me most in all this is when my friend first tested positive then why was there not someone taking a fresh swab immediately and walking it through the system (not just putting into the system with priority), while the plans were put in place for the closure of Anglesea. It may have occurred that way and I have been trying to find out how long the test takes once put in the hands of the responsible technician in the pathology laboratory (a former lab technician informed me seconds once in the machine but between 15min and hour according to one FDA document) but to no avail. I am sure that information on their actual processes will not be made available but it should!
Friday, I watched on in amusement as I saw the difficult questions being asked of the acting premier and the reporters asserting that the 7-day extension to the lockdown was triggered by the fleeting contact that were found to be false positives. I was actually suffering a bit from the lack of activity which related to my back from when I burst a disk and did an exercise class in the lounge room and following the care package delivered by my brother was able to prepare to cook something I have never tried before (lemon marmalade). The Army actually called in to check up on several of my friends (possibly as close contact of confirmed case even though now known as false positive) but not me and that was possibly as did not have my address.
My girlfriend, in New Zealand was getting misinformation about flight cancellations, I informed her that the lockdown here had been extended, when her quarantine would be over according the New Zealand Health department (finished up the same as here), rebooking, organising to start her new job remotely and other matters but that was eventually sorted out!
I am still in quarantine as still considered a tier 1 site (although not sure if that site should still be tier 1 as due to the false positive transmission or were there others at that site?). The person that collated the list of us and phone numbers received an email outlining that he had to get tested Saturday and if the results come back negative, he could get out of quarantine midnight, Sunday night.
Saturday we all went down to get retested (per the instructions to 1 of us). Seven and a half hours later I received the Covid test results as “no covid detected” which was a fast turnaround. Shortly after, I got a call from the builder that is also volunteering his services to build the facilities for the homeless. He asked if I could be on site Sunday morning when the concreter would be there and give instructions. I wanted to go so looked at the test result and rang the number 180067598 indicated and told they could only give general information so I asked for specifics on my case and was referred me to 1300651160. As you probably guess they referred me back to 180067598 and press a selection that simply did not exist! The public service process is uncoordinated if not designed to mess you around and “Yes Minister” comes to mind.
Sunday was the best. Calls started just before 11am from DHHS. To those listed in (for example) the spreadsheet
· row G “is the person from row H there?”
· row H “is the person from row I there?”
and so on. Someone in our group worked out either they must have added a cell in the spreadsheet and corrupted it, the automated loading into database could not handle the blank cell and messed it up or they simply manually stuffed it up putting it into the database! We found one person that was rung, explained that is my wife’s phone number and when checking the details found they had a third persons email but they would not accept the corrections for whatever reason so it remained completely screwed up! The Armed Services (a.k.a. the Covid Swat team) were arriving at people’s doors and in more than one case looking for one person, questioning them but not the spouse (who was also there on the day) as they were not on their list to check! People would ask the Armed Services visiting their house (i.e. the storm troopers) or the telephone caller when they could leave quarantine but neither able to answer. Questions were jokingly asked within the group was “so when they rang you for your wife’s phone number did you give it to them or just hand over the phone?” All this, when the person in our group was declared as false positive that had caused the issues for Anglesea days earlier!! In one telephone interview a friend asked the question of clearance certificate which was dismissed as “don’t know as that is another department” or may have been team.
Friends are also being sent emails with the explanation “as we were unable to contact you by phone” whereas in some cases they have talked to them and definitely know all our phone numbers from the shared data from issuing test results! Some are being told they cannot leave quarantine until they get a clearance certificate from DHHS whereas others just left in the dark! One person was given an explanation that the clearance certificate would be sent by Email shortly before quarantine would end (midnight tonight). I will definitely not be waiting as it is clear they are exceptionally disorganised and unreliable! At 10:54 Sunday night I got an email from firstname.lastname@example.org however the name on it was someone else on the spreadsheet (clearly the data matching names and emails still not addressed). LOL!!!
What I have learned from all this is:
1. The QR system appears to be non-functional in Victoria, not linked to an SMS alert system and it was just a chance discovery that we were self-identified.
2. While the contact tracers may be doing the best job they can, they are clearly not well supported and the fact they seemed to be ringing us up to check our mates phone numbers means they are disorganised, not managing data centrally and wasting time. Most of you would conclude that senior managers may not be doing their job.
3. The IT systems within DHHS appear to be substandard and neither user or client focused so probably nothing much has really changed in the culture since I left there many years ago (and you can read about that in my book).
4. Our gold standard tracking and tracing system is at best tarnished or more like an expensive joke and simply a public relations exercise!
5. The state government is wasting the time of the Armed Services that have been assigned to assist with their extremely poor data management.
6. If the public service tell you they will do something it is very optional for them and most likely to just get you off the phone. i.e. a lie!! They will fob you off as someone else's responsibility.
7. When the public service wants something from you they are self-righteous uncompromising @#$%^&* that will shut down the state, drive your business into the ground and do what they want, regardless of the cost to you and will not be held to account.
8. When you need practical advice and assistance you can be sure DHHS are either difficult or impossible to contact.
9. All this occurred as one member of our group was curious and spotted we were at the venue and did the right thing, or none of this farce would have occurred as they appear to not using the QR Code system and probably would not have known about us!
As many of you may have read in my book, after this fortnights experience, my position has been further entrenched and next time the government need my assistance I will hesitate as they have lost their right to expect my cooperation. It was Sir Robert Peel that penned the 9 principles of policing and to paraphrase they must treat everyone equally and fairly to ensure community support so they can do their job. This applies to the state government as a whole and it is simply not happening!