Covid-19 — a personal view on the Australian response.

It seems I am incredibly naive, I heard several statements relating to the Covid-19 response last night that deeply troubled me.

The first was that there were only 2,000 intensive care unit (ICU) beds in Australia (ABC Q&A, 16 March 2020).  Hold that thought.

The Australian Government has its Chief Medical Officer stand beside the PM or the Health Minister as if to provide a veil of professionalism and competency regarding its response. And yet, the response has been at best mediocre and at worst …..  Beyond the ban on flights from China into this country, the federal government doesn’t appear to have done anything that was timely or ‘ahead of the curve’ to reduce the infection rate.  The federal government spokespeople are quick to tout that one particular measure as decisive government action when questioned.

However, current social distancing measures appear insufficient and impractical.  The ludicrous suggestion for those needing to take public transport was to use hand sanitiser.  Who has hand sanitiser?  Schools will stay open (up to a point) and the risk of infection will be managed through good hand-washing.  Some schools don’t even have soap.  Have you seen some of the kids toilets?  Closing schools before kids have chance to spread the virus around just seems sensible.

Australia is still waiting for practical, preemptive (life-saving) social distancing measures that will make a significant difference in flattening the infection curve.  In this respect, we are far behind the curve with the Government unable to plan even 24 hours ahead.  Schools and universities are still open.  Some temporary closures have been made after the virus has already made its way into those institutions.  Unlike the private sector, there does not appear to be a policy to actively promote working from home within federal government agencies, perhaps because government IT systems are not up to the challenge.  A certificate from a doctor is often required to access special work from home arrangements.  My mother/my partner might die if I give her a virus that I don’t yet have, really doesn’t cut it with the universities, and maybe not with some employers either.  To their credit, some government agencies are being flexible.

I must declare a conflict of interest at this point.  I have a tiny house and two adult children living at home.  We only have one bathroom.  I also have a number of chronic health conditions, including Type 1 diabetes.  I use an insulin pump that my family don’t know how to operate.  Also, I’m no spring chicken.  The death rate for diabetics is high.  I’m not sure why.  It could be because those with diabetes are statistically more likely to have a range of serious health issues like kidney damage, heart disease, etc.  Or maybe it is because when push comes to shove and decisions are being made in the hospital system about who should receive life-saving intensive care, having diabetes is a threshold test?  I don’t know.

Self-isolation at home, particularly if I am unable to manage my diabetes myself, would be hugely challenging for my family.  The alternative, going to hospital, could be deadly.

Personally it would help me immensely if universities suspended classes right now.  In six weeks, my son will finish his university course.  He is keen to do whatever it takes to finish his degree.  So, in the meantime, he is stuck in lecture rooms with two hundred other students and in science laboratories working in small groups.  That can’t be good.  Who is responsible for making the decision as to when universities should close?  If it is a decision by the federal government, they need to explain why this decision has been delayed.

Perhaps it just too big a hit to the economy if schools and universities close down?  If we fail to act now, then we are on a trajectory to a major infection crisis cannot be avoided.  The countries that have done best at flattening the infection curve are those that have engaged in widespread testing and introduced extensive social distancing measures.  So far it has been a paltry effort in Australia, and with only 2000 ICU beds nationwide and the government unable to confirm the paltry number of test kits available, it will only be a matter of weeks before our health system succumbs.

John Daley, Chief Executive Officer of the Grattan Institute was interviewed for The Business last night (ABC, 17 March 2020),  He said that all the economic modelling of similar novel infection outbreaks showed that the more countervailing measures put in place to deal with public health emergencies, the more these public health measures adversely impacted the economy.  In his words,

The largest part of economic impact will be a consequence of what governments decide to do, essentially from public health measures to try and slow the diseases, the more economic damage they will do on the way through.  That is the horrible trade-off they face and that we as a community face.”

Money or life?  For those with strong constitutions that can survive the virus, it may be the economic impacts that harm them most.  Am I getting to the nub of the Federal Government’s response here?  This is a deeply conservative government that has managed to convince many in the electorate that it is a better economic manager than its opponent.  Yet many of the elderly who are most likely to vote for them, will be the ones most affected by the virus.  Awkward.  Of course, the really wealthy can bunker down in their huge mansions with multiple bathrooms and have their groceries, sanitisers and toilet paper catered.  If no sanitiser, there is always the drinks cupboard.

Several state and territory governments have declared public health emergencies.  Shouldn’t that make the public health response the number one priority?  So far our national government hasn’t stepped up, nor has it levelled with the Australian public about where it sees the balance of priority.   Like this government’s other catchphrases, will the oft-used phrase “an abundance of caution” go down in history as more marketing spin.

65 thoughts on “An Abundance Of Caution

  1. It’s getting slowly unfucked here, but maybe not soon enough. The economic dangers are real, but if no one survives or only children or or or (I don’t know) what difference will it make? An economy can recover. A dead person can’t. Around me there are a lot of short-sighted defiance, but as I am (lucky?) enough to be alone in an empty place I’m as golden as possible in these crapped out circumstances. I truly believe that many? Most? People think this is a “theory” or “opinion” and don’t realize what it means to have one’s life at risk.

    I also don’t understand why it isn’t obvious that the quicker we shut things down, the sooner this will be over. Fucking stupid people.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. SARS? I never caught that. Yeah, I’m checking in with everyone every day. Sadly, you’re right. Even if the stupid people get the consequences they tend to blame it on others. Oh wait, that’s our president. ❤ Take care of you, Tracy.

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  2. When your Federal Government doesn’t step up and treat this as the emergency it is, many Australians will take a relaxed attitude. Some dude recently came from Australia to Wellington NZ when he’d already been tested for Coronavirus and hadn’t yet got the result. He’d already been out and about in Wellington before getting his result which was Positive. Fancy coming here before even knowing his result!!! This lack of personal responsibility is scary. To date we’ve had no internal transmission – all 8 cases are directly traced to people coming in from outside.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. We are in a similar situation in the UK. We’ve gone along with our fingers in our ears, lala la ing , keep calm and carry oning… Now suddenly the government are ‘advising’ bars, theatres, restaurants to close. As its not an order the owners won’t be able to claim on their insurance. But I think we all need to keep away from each other. The economy will take a hit, but at least I hope people will survive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the virus has such terrible impact on the health workforce, that no country can afford to be blasé. Glad to realise the the UK is waking up to itself. The whole “will we or won’t we” have a lock down adds terribly to people’s anxiety. Take care and keep your distance.

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  4. Well reported Tracy. No one can see where this will end and it seems the government is making it all up day by day and I agree, they are not taking notice of and implementing measures from overseas, especially China, with its aggressive lock down regime that does seem to be working, as their infection numbers are reported to be falling (???) Stay safe, keep socially distancing and wash your hands…. what else can we do but hope…

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Cloth nappies show your generation Tracy… maybe today’s mothers will have to go back to them if the disposable ones become a victim of hoarders….

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  5. A virus that transfers exponentially is an unimaginable danger to the world, given how fast we humans travel from continent to continent. Hell, how fast we travel to outer space! It’s even more unimaginable that governments headed by people counting their votes and the coin in their pockets make decisions that have such broad effect. We’re a bit ahead here in the US, in that so many of our schools, universities, businesses, and public gathering places have shuttered temporarily. At least, I hope it’s all temporary. Many small businesses can’t afford to close for a few weeks – they might not recover. For all the suggestions to home school kids, not every parent is capable. Many impoverished children reliant on state provided meals served at school won’t be fed. The very long term result might be a Depression. This opportunistic virus isn’t the fault of any government, except of course in not preparing for worst case scenarios and implementing best health and site practices. Governments must respond quickly and with wise, informed leadership. Yours has fallen short as badly as ours. I was crying earlier – not for myself but for my country, for the world, for the future. I hope your health holds strong, Tracy, and that your kids’ lives are minimally interrupted.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. The virus as you are aware has no wings nor does it have legs so to get it the droplets on your hand must be transferred to openings on your face. Wash Hands very frequently and avoid crowds. Going outside is okay but avoid people. Mortality rate is less that four percent with C 19 about the same as the the flu. Do not touch your face. Some places have experienced a shortage of nasal swabs and have resorted to substituting vaginal swabs which seem to work as well as nasal swabs according to comparison testing done in Western Canada.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I like the Canadian innovativeness. When I woke my husband this morning, he was sleeping with his hand on his face. One son works in a bakery. In the retail part. He has had it drummed into him all the time, so plenty of practice.
      It looks like the Canadian numbers are kicking up. Our city folk are gutting regional supermarkets now. Just appalling. I hope Canadians are not so selfish.

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      1. As of today Canada’s virus numbers are 605 infected and 8 have died. Public education announcements are slowly convincing fearful people that there will be no reason for hoarding. Canada closed the USA border today with exceptions for those who have under gone testing(50,000 have been tested so far) but essential cross boarder trips such as the movement of food and other products will continue. The Canadian government is enacting policies to protect the economy and people threatened by the economy’s possible fall into recession. Canada will be spending 27 billion in its efforts curb the effects of the virus on Canada’s economic health. The intent is to keep the rise of infected persons relatively flat and slow. Canadians are advised to go outside, enjoy the fresh air but keep a two metre social distance. Stay strong Tracy.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Really sorry your son is still attending lectures, we have already started to move all of our courses online and there is no good reason why all universities are not doing this.
    At the moment we are still open for business but systematically all lectures are being moved online, very soon it is expected that the library where I work will close and we will still provide services to students via a chat and phone service.
    On the positive side while we are still working face to face with students we are all following best practice in terms of hygiene and prevention, making jokes to lighten the atmosphere.
    Stay safe.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m trying to remain calm, Sharon. My son says the uni has been very good about providing sanitiser. He accidentally sneezed in his lecture today (into his clothes). I don’t think the nearest student will sit next to him again. He has got a big test next week. The uni is waiting on advice from ACT government. We wait and hope for the best.
      Is the library shut yet, Sharon? If not, I hope that happens soon. The trajectory is worrying.

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  8. I wish I could offer you some encouraging comment, Tracy, and we share all your fears. As of last night the confirmed tally in South Africa stood at 64 confirmed infections, the vast majority of which were infected on overseas visits and then returned home. However, local infections have started escalating now and in response all schools will close for 4 weeks as of today and shops have been cleared of stock by the panicking masses. We’re hoping to be running for the mountains soon – literally (well, we’ll be driving not running) – and just get out of the city for a bit of respite.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. to get out of the city. It is getting fairly lawless in the supermarkets here. At this rate, we will go under martial law.. The government’s attitude is contributing to a certain amount of civil unrest. Just shocking. Of course, I’m exaggerating but the vibe is kind of dangerous. Take care, Dries. Relax with your family and stay healthy.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. As an expat South African now living in Sydney put it the other day phoning into a local radio station: “no matter how affluent and developed a country is, as soon as the toilet paper runs out everyone turns into a barbarian”.

        Liked by 2 people

  9. Sorry to hear your distress at your governments slow response. The economy will always bounce back. The earlier precautions are put in place the sooner we all get back to “normal” life. I feel fortunate for the measures being put in place here.

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      1. Well, I wouldn’t say calm…lots of panic buying I would say, but within my province there is a plan and changing response to circumstances. Wishing you rest and health.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I am nervous too. With our kind of population and living conditions, once it peaks we all will be gone.
        No, it was not self-indulgent, it is natural to worry. And yes, we will discuss this, definitely.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Luckily, I’m already working remotely, and my husband is retired. Still, the cases are starting to mount up in our state, and if the virus starts moving through nursing homes and retirement communities, the hospitals aren’t equipped to deal with it. As you say, very disheartening.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s okay, Tracy. My thoughts are definitely with others. The latest news tonight (aside from the climb in the number of confirmed cases in NH) was a plea from the Emergency Services in Manchester for the public to donate the masks, gloves, disinfecting wipes, hand sanitizer, and bleach they’re hoarding because law enforcement and the fire service are going to run out of these supplies for first responders in a week, and none are available for them to replenish their supplies. I just wanted to weep.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yes, it does. The other part of the news story was that hospitals don’t have enough ventilators to deal with the anticipated respiratory failures, and the companies that manufacture them are ramping up production.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for this Tracy, it is a real concern for sure. May I suggest you Google the Canadian public health systems guide lines for coping with COVID-19. I think it is quite comprehensive and perhaps it will reassure you. You could set up your tent in the garden, or you could just keep your distance from your boys for now.
    Warm water and soap is supposed to be as effective for good hand washing as sanitizers. A good long scrub….use bleach or hydrogen peroxide solution to swab your bathroom, taps, door knobs, hand rails etc. Don’t touch your face. Go out into the sunshine and fresh air in your garden as much as possible. Avoid congregating. Do your art, try to maintain good physical and mental health.
    Your government sounds like they need a kick up the backside. Along with quite a number of others. Including our own which has still not closed our border with the USA, where the numbers of infections are escalating and there is no such thing as universal health care, which of course theatens the rest of the continent and its inhabitants, especially the more vulnerable among us.
    I wish you all the best of good health. Keep writing, keep gardening, try to find something joyful to focus on every day.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. I will read the guidelines. Bleach is in short supply. So is people’s sense of decency. My son was abused by a woman at the bakery because the bread bag touched his apron. These wonderful people working in supermarkets and takeaway food businesses ought to be paid danger money.
      People arriving from the US have been our biggest source of virus carriers. Canadians will be in real difficulty if the border is not closed. This must be a huge worry for diabetics who need insulin. I understand that quite a few Americans cross the border to buy their insulin.
      Your garden and the forest will be a welcome distraction to you as the weather warms up. There are always a few bloggers and your online community if the solitude becomes too much..

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      1. Thanks Tracy, you can also use hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol in lieu of bleach. Boiling water for things you can soak….yes, danger pay should be given for the front line workers. Indeed, it is disappointing to see how some people are reduced to extremely ugly behaviour during difficult times. On the other hand it can be equally encouraging to see how people can rise to the challenges facing us all at the moment. We need to strive for patience and goodwill, now more than ever.
        Thank goodness the border between the US and Canada has finaly been closed to non-essential travel. It will r3main open to trade and commerce, so the insulin and other meds and products coming from that direction should continue to flow.
        Our province of British Columbia has also declared an official state of emergency which will give government more power to crack down on things like hoarding which is causing a certain amount of chaos already apparently. Though our province is also ensuring us that there are plenty of supplies in stock in the stores, just too many people freaking out and clearing the shelves and not enouh time for employees to re-stock….I haven’t been to town for a couple of weeks now, not because of the virus thing, but just my usual thing. We do have our usual stock of supplies and all the normal activities to keep us busy, such as getting the garden ready, seeds started etc. Self isolaton is a normal way of life for us, so not a big problem at all. Thank goodness for all the lovely bloggers who provide inspiration on a regular basis. I am hoping to find some time to re-ignite my own blog which, once again, has fallen by the wayside due to a number of reasons….mostly pure laziness and/or creativity block!
        Time to get motivated! I could probably give folks a few pointers on self-isolation! Hang in there, keep washing your hand. 💖

        Liked by 1 person

      2. All the rubbing alcohol is sold out too! Both supermarkets and pharmacies are now setting limits on products. We found some bleach in our cupboard and have diluted it in some water. I like the boiling water option. It is also good for killing surface weeds. 🙂
        I saw that there were quite a few cases in BC. I hope they take all possible steps to contain it. Mass testing worked well in a little Italian town. It seems that it is those that are asymptomatic (quite a high proportion apparently) that are spreading the infection far and wide.

        I look forward to a post or two on developments in the garden. Our Autumn has been cooler than normal so the poor summer crop is struggling with the last produce. I need lots of hints on cold weather gardening.

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  11. Sorry to read you are not getting the actions and assurances from your government that are needed right now Tracy. The measures taken seem to vary from country to country and the truth is that no one really knows what will happen next. Common sense, only buying what you need so others can buy what they need too and looking out for one another will go a long way. Wishing you stay safe and well and sending lots of love xxx

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you dear Tracy. We have a good community and support network here with people going to the shops for those who are self-isolating. The social-distancing aspect still feels a bit weird, where we have to keep 1.5 metres away from the next person we meet. It’s done in good humour and we’re all keeping our spirits up. We’re washing our hands more and to me mental and spiritual ‘hygiene’ is just as important as physical hygiene, so I’m discerning about what I read and whom I listen to and spend time with people who make me feel good, meditate and get plenty of exercise in the fresh air with the dogs. Stay well Tracy, a calm spirit and a dose of good humour works wonders for the immune system xxx

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Things seem to be just as f****d up there as they’re here, Tracy. 😦 At least we’ve closed our schools, public libraries and universities since last Friday/Tuesday, as well as all shops except drug stores and supermarkets. Germany also doesn’t have enough intensive care beds so I really hope flattening the curve will work.

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