The Federal Government continues to link this month’s huge Black Lives Matter protests in Melbourne to a worrying spike in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Victoria, despite state and federal health authorities saying it’s unlikely the event itself significantly contributed to those increasing numbers.
Victoria today recorded 17 new coronavirus infections, marking the seventh day in a row of case numbers growing by double digits.
The figures aren’t great: Eleven of those new cases are still under investigation, and authorities are yet to trace the source of a number of cases recorded in recent days.
However, more than two weeks after the June 6 rally, and several days past the virus’ expected 14-day incubation period, only four attendees have tested positive for COVID-19.
Regardless, Health Minister Greg Hunt today speculated that Victorians may have taken further liberties around social distancing and physical contact after observing the rally.
“They saw ten thousand plus people protest, then they thought ‘Well, surely it would be safe for ten people to get together,’ [but] it wasn’t safe for those ten thousand to protest,” he told Today.
His statement echoes a comment made by Chief Medical Officer Dr Brendan Murphy, who yesterday said “the protest set a bad example for others and maybe contributed to people gathering in larger numbers.”
Even then, Dr Murphy was circumspect.
“We don’t know that for sure,” he added.
He also cast doubt on prior fears for the protest contributing to a spike in case numbers, saying, “We don’t think the protest gatherings were directly responsible.”
Despite concerns for COVID-19 transmission before and after the protest – including damning statements from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and efforts by the NSW Police to shut down a similar rally in Sydney – experts have remarked on the relatively low number of cases tied to the event.
Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, the group which organised the Melbourne protest against Indigenous deaths in custody, also urged attendees to wear masks, sanitise their hands, and observe social distancing rules.
Hard to say exactly how many there at #BlackLivesMatter in Melbourne because social distancing has spread people out more than they would otherwise be. Vibe peaceful. Everyone wearing masks. @AAPNewswire pic.twitter.com/0OmSMGFCIG
— andi yu (@andivivienneyu) June 6, 2020
People with flu-like symptoms were asked to stay home, and attendees were also asked to self-isolate for fourteen days afterwards.
There’s more work to be done to beat the pandemic for good, and renewed lockdown conditions attest to that fact.
But, as it stands, it doesn’t appear any of the worst-case scenarios linked to the protest sprang into reality.Image: Asanka Ratnayake / Getty Images / Mick Tsikas / AAP Image