Sky News Interview: First Edition: Beirut Explosion, Second Victorian COVID-19 Lockdown



SUBJECTS: Beirut Explosion, Second Victorian COVID Lockdown  

PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST Now out of Melbourne is Labor MP, Peter Khalil. Peter. Good morning. Thanks for your time as always, just on that explosion out of Lebanon, what do you make of it? 

PETER KHALIL MP: Well I’ve seen the shocking pictures as well, this morning, Pete and it’s very, very disturbing. There are a lot of Australian Lebanese that live in my electorate, a huge community in my electorate. They are all, obviously this morning, extremely worried about family and friends that they would have in Beirut. Many of them would have many, many family and friends in Beirut and so it’s going to be a really, really troubling period for them. And this explosion really comes on the back, another huge hit for Lebanon. Obviously in the past year or so they have been rocked by strife, civil protests around the politics, the sectarian politics in Lebanon, but also COVID-19. So this is a really very, very sad day for Australian Lebanese. 

HOSTThey’re still trying to work out what happened. This part of the world and a blast that big, you always tend to think that it’s probably an act of terrorism, don’t you Peter. But it looks as though it’s not as sinister as that. It may well be ammonium nitrate that had been stored for up to six years. And you can actually see in some of the pictures that some fireworks were going off before that big, second explosion. So it may well just be a terrible accident. I’m not sure maybe it won’t be. 

KHALIL: It’s interesting that the neighbours, Israel in particular, put out a statement saying they had nothing to do with it. Even Hezbollah, which is one of the huge parties and militias, have said it’s got nothing to do with Israel. This looks like an issue around mismanagement of those high explosives that were stored there. In fact, a month ago, I think it was the Lebanese Prime Minister, or one senior minister did say they had an issue or a problem in managing all of those explosives, and those materials that were stored at the port of Beirut and they had to deal with it. And now tragically it’s exploded and, I think 73 people have been killed and over 3000 injured. So, this is a tragic day for the country. 

HOST: All right. So let’s move to things closer to home. Now, Peter, what’s the mood like in your electorate at the moment, now that these restrictions, curfews, it’s all in place, and now the restrictions are extending to those regional areas too. And even those areas that don’t have any COVID cases. 

KHALIL: Well, Pete, I’m going to tell you, it’s grim in Victoria. We’re not going, I’m not going, to hide that. We are all frustrated. We’re all angry, as Victorians, we’re all really concerned, and I think part of it is because as we go into this second lockdown, which is even harder, the stage four lockdown, than even the first one we went through a couple of months ago. That second effort you’ve got to make is always harder. Whether it’s in sport or in life, you know what’s coming, you’re anticipating the pain and you’re sort of girding yourself for it. And so people are really struggling. But having said that, I think the vast majority of Victorians are doing the right thing. There’s a number of selfish people, I was shocked by that number of, 800 out of 3000 positive cases, when they were doorknocked, 800 were not home. I mean, that is a shocking statistic, and a selfish statistic and really concerning. And of course there are…mistakes have been made by all levels of government, whether it’s the hotel quarantine or the Ruby Princess. And there’s an inquiry on that to get accountability, which I think is important. But, the fact is we’ve got to do this now, and I really hope, Pete, that we are able to successfully suppress those numbers because we have to look at the next phase and what we’re going to do there as a state and a country. 

HOST:  You get the sense that they will suppress those numbers. It’ll be just a matter of time because there’s no plan B. It’ll surely work what’s going on. What I can’t figure out and what a lot of people outside of Victoria can’t figure out as well, is that why people who were COVID positive were able to still go and exercise? I can’t get my head around why that was allowed. So, there’s got to be an extra portion of blame placed on the authorities here. 

KHALIL: Well, the issue around the exercise, as far as I understand, was that people who were self-isolating at home were allowed to go out, as long as they didn’t get in contact with anyone else and do some exercise out on the street or in the park, and not get close to anyone. That has been shut down, that loophole, now, as I understand, by the state government. What’s more concerning is that of those 800, I don’t think that were all exercising at the time, there were a number of those people who probably went to work or went to the shops and obviously infected many other people as we’ve seen that community transmission happen. 

HOST: But doesn’t it go to show it wasn’t tight enough, that the authorities just weren’t strong enough. And that’s why it all got out of hand. 

KHALIL: Well, my view, Pete, from a public policy point of view, and this is particularly around the next phase about how we deal with this, I think we need to be throwing all of our resources at locking down localised lockdown, of ring fencing, particularly aged care, vulnerable people in hospitals and so on because they’re the most vulnerable. And then looking at where we know the cases are and making sure the resources are there to ensure people are self-isolating and quarantining successfully. So that means if they’re checked up three times a day by authorities, then it should be the case. So you lock down just those cases, make sure they stay at home, make sure they’re not mingling with the rest of the population. So you don’t have to lock down the entire suburb or postcode, or even the entire city. We as a nation have to actually figure this out because we hope there’s going to be a vaccine and there’s some promising results coming through. But if there’s no vaccine, we should be starting from that point and working backwards. How do we manage this without doing entire lockdowns every couple of months? Because the virus is very transmissible. It’s very infectious. It’ll get out. So we’ve got to actually work out a way where we really, with the speed and alacrity of the way it transmits, that we respond quickly and that the authorities are able to lock down locally and make sure we have some control of it in that way. So the rest of the economy can actually continue to function. 

HOST: And get back on track again, absolutely. Well, Peter Khalil, appreciate your time as always. Thanks so much for joining us today. We’ll talk to you again soon. 

KHALILThanks Pete.