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Thursday 05, Nov 2020

Today Victorians are enjoying their hard earned freedom!  So how did Victoria do it?  There weren’t any massive infrastructure developments (though there was significant contingency planning if required), there were however two key responses to the Victorian COVID–19 response - both of which were driven by science and an understanding of risk. 

On the 30 July 2020 Victoria recorded 723 new COVID-19 cases in a day.  This number triggered what has been touted as one of the harshest and longest lockdowns in the world.  Just two weeks prior to this date, on 15 July 2020 - the UK recorded 724 new infections per day. Of course the daily infection totals only tell part of the story as they need to be considered against the cumulative infection totals, the population density and the diversity of each of the populations as well as all of the socioeconomic an environmental considerations amongst so many other parameters. 

As engineers and scientists we have the hierarchy of controls drilled into us for safety. To reduce hazards we first look at elimination of the hazard then, if this is not possible, substitution (can we use something less risky). If this is not possible we look to engineering - can we design something that is safer? Finally we reach what is often seen as the last resort in the design world - administrative controls and PPE.  Both administrative controls and PPE rely heavily on behavioural changes which are driven by education, equipment, technology and of course the PPE itself. 

By working with the science, assessing the risks and working actively to change the behaviour of a population of just over 6 million to mitigate the risks with just the basic (lowest) hierarchy of controls demonstrates that behavior and risk go hand in hand.  I’m not saying that the Australian authorities have got everything right, there have been and will continue to be dire long term physical and mental consequences of the disruption caused by COVID-19 lockdowns in Victoria in particular. However by and large we have been spared the double whammy of both health and economic crises served up by COVID-19 on the world. 

We will be exploring many of these issues - the successes and the challenges of community biosafety - throughout our inaugural online summit.  There will be something for everyone at the summit, members, non members, those with a technical background and interested members of the general public are all welcome.

Stay safe,

Stephen Coulter