After the coronavirus nightmare has passed, harsh judgments will be made about which political leaders and health experts were on the right or wrong side in handling this crisis.
Politicians like to cast back to the global financial crisis and play the blame game. The stakes were very high then - this time they are multiplied.
And there are many with futures or reputations (or both) on the line.
This week we've seen a high-profile clash of opinions and expertise on display. Given the exponential rise in cases - now more than 3000 - the calls for everyone to be on the same page must be secondary to the imperative of choosing the right strategy.
One school of thought says to put health first and go nuclear now, with a much tougher shutdown or a lockdown. The other school favours a stepped approach, tightening the screws but trying to keep as much economic activity alive for as long as possible.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (Labor) and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian (Liberal) are hardliners, indicating they are ready to move to tighter controls in their states sooner rather than later.
Scott Morrison has been the prime advocate of the gradual approach.
For Morrison, it's a balancing act, in the face of "a twin crisis, a crisis on a health front, which is also causing a crisis in the economy as well. And both of them can be equally as deadly".
On Friday he repeatedly spoke about the efforts "to save lives and to save livelihoods", and told the media not to use the word "lockdown".
He announced Australians arriving from overseas will be quarantined in hotels and the like as the latest health measure, and foreshadowed an imminent third economic package to keep businesses in "hibernation" (and so alive).
Morrison has found his hand forced by the states (as in last Sunday's argy-bargy on shutdowns) or has been bypassed (on schools).
He was a firm advocate of keeping the schools open and pupils attending them, to preserve the health workforce and so that children's education is not disadvantaged.
But the states are moving (at various paces) to have most children at home. The national cabinet said on Friday: "We are now in a transition phase until the end of term as schools prepare for a new mode of operation following the school holiday."
Labor leader Anthony Albanese argues the first priority for the government should be the "health emergency".
"Then, it needs to deal with the economic consequences of the health emergency ... It needs to be done in that order," he says.
Those who argue Labor is just playing politics and should be sticking to the federal government line are off beam. This is a policy crisis too, and policy arguments are legitimate and indeed necessary.
The idea that you can put measures in place for four weeks and suddenly stop them and the virus will be gone is not credible.Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy and his deputy, Paul Kelly, have been strong public defenders of the gradualist path.
Yet in the health world, many in academia are advocates of an immediate lockdown.
Academic experts are at the centre of the policy battle, and this carries its own politics.
Take a paper commissioned by the federal government to obtain the advice of 22 experts from Group of Eight universities. It reported two views among them.
"One view, influenced by our position on the epidemic curve, the limitations of wide community testing and surveillance and the experience of other countries, argues for a comprehensive, simultaneous ban across Australia," it said.
"The other, influenced by the fact that a large number of our cases are a direct/contacts of importation (which have now been stopped), influenced by the large variation in case density across Australia and the adverse consequences of closure and the sustainability and compliance to an early closure, argued for a more proportionate response".
The first view was "a dominant position in this group", the paper said. What it didn't add was that this was the overwhelming view.
When asked about the paper at a Tuesday news conference, both Morrison and Murphy were noticeably uneasy. Murphy said: "Any measures we place, we believe need to be for the long haul. The idea that you can put measures in place for four weeks and suddenly stop them and the virus will be gone is not credible."
But another paper circulating, including to senior business figures, argues "the case for a short, sharp lockdown" as the best way to go. The paper is from Raina MacIntyre, who heads UNSW's Biosecurity Program; Louisa Jorm, director of the Centre for Big Data Research in Health, UNSW; Tim Churches, health data scientist at UNSW; and Richard Nunes-Vaz, from the Torrens Resilience Institute at Flinders University.
"We are deeply concerned about the prospect of Australia losing control of the epidemic to a degree which would exceed health system capacity and result in far greater numbers of cases, more health and economic losses, and a longer time to societal recovery," the paper says.
"A short, sharp lockdown of 4-8 weeks will improve control of the epidemic in Australia, reduce case numbers and bring us to a more manageable baseline from which phased lifting of restrictions and economic recovery can occur.
"If we fail to do this, we face continued epidemic growth, potential failure of the health system, and a far longer road to recovery."
The lockdown would be used to ramp up a massive testing operation to identify and isolate cases, enabling the subsequent ease-off to be done more safely.
On Thursday the federal government's deputy chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, suggested challenges to official advice made for public confusion and should be kept behind closed doors.
Not if the challengers turn out to be right.
Morrison received praise in the early days for his handling of the crisis. Now he and his closest health advisers are increasingly finding themselves the odd men out.
- Michelle Grattan is a press gallery journalist and former editor of The Canberra Times. She is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra and writes for The Conversation.
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