Reviewing My Post Hard Lock Down Predictions September 2020

Because we should always review our predictions to examine our own assumptions

On August 17th I wrote a post on what Melbourne might look like after the 6 week lock down period we were in was completed : Thoughts on Melbourne After the Lock Down.

Now that the government has announced the plan for the post lock down period starting September 14th (Victoria’s roadmap for reopening – How we live in Metropolitan Melbourne) I thought I should review what I though then. Not to pat myself on the back (because of course if I had done really badly why would I draw people’s attention to it) but to re-examine assumptions in order to get better next time.

My first statement was:

“The levels of certainty here are predicated in part on my view that the government will want to see levels of local transmission in the single digits outside of an defined cluster before they do too much. They will also be more cautious than they were prior to this outbreak, in part because the political backlash of relaxing restrictions too fast and another outbreak occurring might fatally wound the government.”

Given that the roadmap is a very slow and cautious one and not a lot happens until the 14 day case average is less than 5 a day this was a reasonable statement. Many people seem to have been caught by surprise by the slow nature of the changes but they shouldn’t have been given the evidence in other jurisdictions. I continue to believe that the changes are driven as much by politics as by the public health advice although they are consistent with that advice. I believe that this government believes it can survive politically with a slow recovery as long as it works over the longer term. With the election still 2 years away I think that this is a reasonable view. I also believe that a new wave due to opening up too early would be the political death of the government. That is not to say they do not believe in what they are doing, just that the politics pushes them to the side of more rather than less caution.

I then made a number of statements that I think were fairly obvious at the time and are certainly part of the roadmap. I regarded these as highly certain:

Any large scale indoor gatherings such as music events, high volume church services, conferences ,etc are off the cards for quite a while. Given that I earn part of my living from paid speaking engagements this is of particular interest to me.

Any large scale outdoor events are off the cards for a shorter time than the indoor events but still a fair period. This means the Spring Racing Carnival, AFL Grand Final, etc are all likely doomed in Melbourne if they weren’t already, in part due to the uncertainty. Many events will now be skittish about organising to go ahead with the level of uncertainty that is present.

Restrictions on public gatherings are not being removed until we have no new cases for 28 days (state-wide), no active cases (state-wide) and no outbreaks of concern in others states or territories. This is at least December on the staged plan.

Stopping restaurants and cafes opening without serious distancing measures in place is also fairly certain given that we have seen spread in New South Wales and South Korea.

Wearing masks is here to stay for an extended period – If I had to guess, mandatory for at least six months. It may be relaxed for outdoor exercise earlier than this.

Both of these are correct.

Then I said:

Allowing people to visit each others houses in small numbers will be allowed fairly quickly because of the social and political pressures. It is likely that this will be family members only at the beginning to reduce levels of mixing. Increasing the numbers will be done very cautiously after the first relaxation.

In the first instance this is happening immediately for people living in lone households. Then on 26th October household bubbles are allowing two households to visit each other with a limit of 5 people at a time.

Then I said:

Construction , distribution centres and meatworks will be allowed to resume full capacity as soon as numbers get low enough. This will be with strict COVID Safe Plans and probably external monitors in place. These businesses are too important to the economy and food supply chains to be restricted for too long.

There are quite detailed plans for each sector but the following is a reasonable summary:

  • At Step 2 on Sept 28th (2 weeks after end of lock down) large scale construction is moving from “heavily restricted” to “restricted”. This means moving from 25% capacity to 85% of capacity. Small scale construction is still limited to 5 workers on the 28th.
  • There is less detail on meat processing although the restrictions were less strict during lock down. A lot of the rules seem to be about spacing, and protective gear. It may be that these plants will be working at the lock down reduction levels for some time. I was wrong here and it may be that the data has shown that the reduced levels are maintaining supply chains sufficiently and that some capacity has been shifted interstate.
  • The same seems top be applying with distribution centres although they are full open at stage 3 (October 26th).

Then I said:

The 8 pm curfew will be lifted as soon as numbers get low enough, as will the 5km travel limits because of the social pressures to do so. This is tied to allowing people to visit each other.

The curfew is being eased immediately on Sept 14th from 8pm-5 am to 9pm-5am. It is then being completely removed on October 26th, as is the 5km limit.

The I said:

Work from home if you can work from home will be a high priority for government. It may even be reinforced with employer penalties for forcing people to come to work when they do not need to. This measure reduces people interacting, reduces pressure on space in public transport, and has minimal economic impact.

Work from home if you can is being pushed all the way to November 23rd and beyond. Phased return is to be considered when we reach no new cases for 28 days (state-wide), no active cases (state-wide) and no outbreaks of concern in others states or territories. There is no statement that I can find on penalties being put in place.

Then I said:

Schools will remain closed until at least October 5th because Term 3 finishes 5 days after the end of the proclaimed 6 week lock down. So it makes no sense to open up for 5 days even if the case numbers are low.

This is the plan.

Then I said:

Restrictions on exercising for one hour maximum will be removed as it is generally a low risk activity

This is being moved to 2 hours a day immediately (Sept 14th) with more and more relaxation at each stage.

Then I moved in to what I thought of as medium certainty statements:

Cafes and restaurants kept closed for at least 2 weeks after the first rules are relaxed to monitor behaviour and case levels from the first changes before putting people together in groups outside of their family groups. Maybe even 4 weeks.

While this has been borne out the restrictions are even longer than I thought. With take-away only for a further six weeks rather than four.


Then cafes and restaurants opened up with maximum caps on numbers per venue/physically separate area, and strict 4 square metre rules per person. In addition they will be required to put in place extended COVID Safe plans, plus external monitors for any venue above a certain size. Serving will require patrons to be seated. Given the experiences in implementing this in NSW there will be a lot more checking going on than in the past. Not all venues will open up in these circumstances due to the economic issues.

This appears largely true although it looks like a real push for outside dining will be part of the approach . This looks like it will include closing off footpaths and taking over car parking for dining and even closing streets. I missed this.

Church services will be allowed to resume but only with small numbers and high levels of social distancing and similar sort of check in requirements as cafes.

This has been more restrictive than I thought. Problems in religious centres in other states and overseas may have influenced this. Outdoor gatherings of 5 people plus a faith leader are allowed from Sept 28th but restrictions on weddings, funerals and indoor services remain. Indoor services do not recommence fully until Nov 23rd and even then are subject to density requirements. Wedding and Funeral restrictions are slowly eased from October 26th.

Shopping centres and major non essential retail will re-open with limits on how many people can enter a store and a shopping centre as a whole. This may include closing some entrances, and creating booking systems.

I did not state a time period for this which was an error in prediction methodology. Retail is being permitted to reopen at a restricted level from October 26th. Restrictions include density quotients and cleaning requirements. There is no mention that I can find on booking systems to larger retail centre entry restrictions. These may or may not be part of more detail that is released later.

Schools and childcare to open up for younger age groups to ease pressure on parents working and trying to home school children at the same time. Cohorts Year 9 and older may remain schooling from home for a longer period as they require less supervision.

I was correct on the younger cohorts being opened up first, including childcare from Sept 28th and years prep to 2 at the start of Term 4. I was wrong about the year 11 and 12 classes being still online. The government is very focused on making sure these kids get equal opportunities with kids from other states so they have gone earlier than I thought.

Over all the results seem consistent with my views that were based on two key assumptions:

  1. That the government would very cautious.
  2. That examples in other jurisdictions gave clear indications what the public health recommendations would be.

This is how all foresight work should be done. Detailing assumptions that can be reviewed and adjusted. Normally I do this sort of work over longer time frames and work with people and how to adjust their strategy as new information arises.

If you want to talk to me about that please contact me.