Western Bulldogs legend Luke Darcy has challenged Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews over the state’s harsh COVID-19 lockdown updates.

Andrews yesterday announced Victoria’s easing of stage four restrictions roadmap spanning until October 26 and stage three until November 23, marking one of the longest lockdowns in the world.

Speaking on Triple M’s The Hot Breakfast this morning, Darcy sought more clarity around the decisions made by the state government.

Here is how the exchange went down.

Luke Darcy: “Premier I must I’m astounded to hear you say it wasn’t even a 50/50 decision, that there is no other way and no other evidence. There has been an incredible study done in the land suggesting that extreme lockdowns have the opposite effect and do not work and they cause immeasurable harm. And actually when you open up in the end you will get more cases and if that’s your policy you’ll go back to more lockdown.

“You’ve had a letter written by 500 medical experts in this town who are at the coalface day-to-day, who are saying to you there is a better way, there is a more humane way. We were looking for nuance and sophistication yesterday and hope. I wanted to see a plan that said Victoria can live with this virus better than any state in the world. Instead, we got more barbaric lockdowns, more devastation for people.

“Why won’t you form an independent panel? Take on board a bigger range of medical advice outside of the Chief Health Officer. Get some of these medical people around a table because they are telling you Premier very clearly you can do this better, you can do this more humanely, you can open up. And they’re not buying that you didn’t have other choices.”

Daniel Andrews: “Well Darce if you look at Spain they got down to 200 cases, then they opened up. They’ve now got 10,000 cases day.”

Darcy: “But their death rate has gone down immeasurably Premier in the second wave. So we know cases is one metric, but we also understand now that people are getting better, are asymptotic, people are recovering from this virus better than they did previously. That is living with the virus, like we do every year Premier with the seasonal flu.

“350,000 people last year got laboratory tested for the flu, 4,000 Australians died of the flu last year. There’s been a vaccine for 79 years Premier but we live with that, even though we want to do better and want to find a better and more humane way. We do live with viruses and we are able to do that without locking up healthy people and destroying their futures for decades to come.

“It’s lacking in nuance and sophistication and I think that’s where people are at the end of what has been a path that is causing, you have to admit, the policy has caused death. The policies by locking people down tipped suicide into a level that’s untenable, tipped mental health into a level that’s untenable. That’s a cost of these measures as well Premier, we didn’t hear about that yesterday.”

Andrews: “Well Darce this is not the flu. We don’t have a vaccine for this virus. This is not the flu, this is a novel virus. You can do the comparisons, that’s fine. But many of the doctors that you’re talking about, I know many of those doctors and I’ve worked with many of them for a number of years. Many of them don’t come from a public health background, they’re not infectious diseases experts. They’re advocating on behalf of their patients and I’m not criticising them for that.”

Darcy: “There’s 500 of them Premier, that’s a lot of doctors.”

Andrews: “And there are a lot more doctors than that working to provide support to deliver the strategy that we’re putting forward. I’m not arguing with you that there’s not consequences of the settings that we have in place. And the difficult judgement is always which is the worst outcome, which is the more impactful outcome.

“The fact of the matter is this. In October last year there was 1,000 people who needed urgent medical last year because they had a heart attack. In October last year there were another 1,000 people in Victoria who needed urgent medical care because they had a stroke. If this gets away from you and your hospital system is overrun, and we’ve seen that in so many jurisdictions across the world.

“Now when I say overrun, we had about at the most 600, 700 patients in hospital. If you talk to nurses who are doing double shifts as well as doctors, they’ll tell you that there was very significant strain in the public hospital system. There still is now even with a couple of hundred patients in there. Because you finish up with health professionals getting infected, others of close contacts they have to be furloughed. There is still enormous amounts of pressure. The point is this, it’s not just COVID patients, I’m not saying you’re making this point, but there’s a bit of a tone around the place saying oh well that these people are all old anyway…”

Darcy: “No that’s not fair Premier, I don’t anyone. I lost my 78-year old father during this time. And you know what was happening to him? He was a very similar person to you actually Premier. He loved his golf, he was isolated in his home. He wasn’t dying from this, he was dying from the isolation and the loneliness because he couldn’t get to the gym, he couldn’t run his business that he’d built for his family his entire life. What was happening was the policies were causing harm Premier. No one is more compassionate about the elderly, but we can pivot to supporting them in a meaningful way.”

Andrews: “Darce let me finish the point I’m making. There is a view that we should lockdown age care and only care care and that everyone else can open up. Well this is not just relevant to older people, there will be many people who simply won’t be able to get the care that they need in our hospital system of all ages for all causes and all reasons.

“The issue here is this thing gets away from you very very quickly and there’s no pulling it back. It gets very difficult to pull it back, particularly in a third wave. You’re talking about nuance, yes. It would be wonderful if for instance you could test ever person every day, it would be wonderful if we had better treatments and a vaccine. It would be wonderful if you could, as you say, live with this.

“But the fact of the matter is, that if I was to ignore the evidence, the data and what the doctors are telling me, then that won’t be the case. People will be dying from this, and I’m not for a moment trying to persuade you that there are not other consequences. Of course there are other consequences. But you’ve got to make a judgement of which is worse, and this running wild across the state in my judgement and the judgement of all of those who are advising us is that that will be a far worse outcome than a steady and safe opening up. And then finding that normal that we can defend and properly lock in Darce.”

Darcy: “But Premier the doctors who have written to you are saying that the evidence from the World Health Organisation is that 99.8 per cent of people will survive this coronavirus, that that is the mortality date that we are dealing with. Clearly we don’t want anyone in age care, anyone at any age level to be susceptible to this. But your Chief Health Officer yesterday said he’s modelling at best, his guesswork.

“So I ask you the question, let’s lockdown until the 24th of November. Let’s take it out, that will devastate and destroy people. People won’t come back from that, young people will die from suicide that don’t need to die, there will be mental health, a car crash unfolding before our very eyes. But okay, what happens in February next year Premier? What happens in March next year when we get 15 or 20 cases, do we go back again? Can you guarantee in 2021 that there won’t be a lockdown or not?”

Andrews: “Well Darce you talk about nuance, and the nuance of it, the sophistication of it, the basic facts of it are these. If you properly defeat the second wave then you are in a position to deal with some additional cases, some outbreaks, but maintain them at very very low levels.

“On the other side of that coin, if we, because we want it to be over, and I know we desperately want it to be over. If we pretend that it is, when in fact it isn’t and we open the place up again, then we won’t be open for very long. And instead of dealing with small numbers of cases, in as you say February or March, we’ll be dealing with hundreds and thousands of cases. And we’ll have no alternative but to reimpose very difficult sanctions. I’m not for a minute arguing that they’re not. These restrictions are very tough and they have a cost yes. The cost of taking them all off too soon is far greater. You’ve got to get it down to such low levels that you’ve effectively beaten it in the second wave.

“Otherwise you’re just marching towards a third wave and I think the consequences of having to go back into another lockdown or having to jump back and fourth, from one set of restrictions to another, where this is no certainty at all. That will do even more damage than has been done to this point.”

Darcy’s Triple M co-host Eddie McGuire asked about improving contact tracing moving forward, to which Andrews replied that they are doing the best job they can but there will always be undetectable cases.

Andrews: “Look the key point here is I understand where Darce is coming from. And there are lots of different medical opinions. This is not an absolute thing, where one choice is without any cost and the other choice is one that has an unbearable cost. All these options have downsides, all these options come with really significant pain. But I’ll just say Darce, the notion of me saying well I’m not going to follow the advice of people who’ve spent a lifetime dealing with infectious diseases. That is not something I’m prepared to do.”

Darcy: “Of course you wouldn’t do that Premier, but what we would hope is that when you have really really preeminent people saying to you that you have to listen at a deeper level. Who are putting their necks on the line, they’re getting enormous blowback these people. Because when you do put yourself up as a professional in this environment Premier, people come at you in a big way. Why not form that independent panel? People still can’t understand why Melbourne has got most extreme lockdown in the world. People can’t get their head around why this is the outcome for us.”

Andrews: “I’m very much aware that there is a lot of criticism around the place. And that’s a perfectly healthy thing, theres nothing wrong with that.”

Darcy: “I think that’s actually opportunity Premier, to actually take on more opinion. Form that panel, get those people in, get them to sit down with Brett Sutton. No one can get Brett Sutton to sit down for an interview and find out about your super computer and about the model that we keep hearing about, any scientific data. We don’t hear about that. All we’ve got is, the best we can do is lock into your home through until the 24th of November, your kids can’t go to school. They are not going to be at school for almost an entire year, the devastation, so what is the cost of this policy? What is the real cost people are adhering to? What is the real terms of the illness? And it’s a debate Premier that I think needs to be heard more loudly.”

Andrews: “There are significant costs in any of the decisions you make with these things Darce. But the question is – what are our options? The notion that it’s one doctor working for the government, it’s not, there are many many people. In terms of the modelling, there’s a thousand different variables that went into one of the most extensive modelling exercises our state has ever seen. Not by one university but by two. The model wasn’t run once it was run multiple times, what it says and this is pretty clear. You open up too early, you’ve got a 63, 64 per cent chance that we’re locked down again by Christmas.

“Now there’s a broader debate about, and that’s not one that frankly I have got the luxury of being able to have. Is this worse than a cold, is this worse than the flu? That’s not a debate that we can have right now. Because that’s not a debate that I think serves any real purpose. This thing is killing people, it will overrun our hospital system, and Darce, whether it be people who are older, people who are younger. Not COVID patients, lots of other patients for many other things that will simply not get the care that they need.

“There are others that are doing it tough absolutely, and we’ve got to try and support them as best we can. This is about choosing least to worst options. That’s sadly the position that we find ourselves in. This is a 1/100 event, it’s a novel virus and we’ve got to find a pathway that gets us as open as we can be as safely as we can be, potentially for a long time, until a vaccine gets here.

“If we don’t see this off properly to get open for a few weeks, we’ll be back locked down again, we won’t have found that COVID normal. That is where the strategy is at and I’m confident that it will deliver that. It will deliver low enough case numbers when we get into the weeks and months ahead, and throughout ’21 that we can defend. And we won’t have to be locking down again. That’s the basic choice.”