Contributed by Ben Wilson
What is happening to Australia? Omicron has meant many more getting sick. More than 3000 have and countless numbers have been knocked down with significant illness. So many are getting sick, that it has created a labour shortage in many workplaces and supermarket shelves are beginning to empty. There have been more than 1.5 million infections in the last few weeks.
Australia knows something is wrong. Proof of this is that people are continuing to stay home, despite relaxation of the rules. They do not trust our political elite, who have turned their backs on what they were telling us just months ago, to tell us we must learn to live with the virus. State governments are pressured to follow suit.
Everyone has witnessed the mess, from the mishandling of JobKeeper and Jobseeker, the vaccine rollout mess, and failure with the rapid antigen testing kits.
Photo by Sam Mooy/AAP: prime Minister Scott Morrison carried most of the responsibility for the pandemic response failure
Behind it all is the neoliberal obsession with the private provision at all costs. The market is unable to properly deal with a health crisis and government refuses to face up to the responsibility of properly looking after the health needs of the population. Look behind every failure, and it is the insistence of private run provision that is the problem. Government has been kept out to provide pharmaceutical companies, private hospitals, pharmacy chains, and others have been given avenues to profiteer.
The dereliction of duty goes to the extent that the Australian government shut its eyes to international expert evidence that warned of the coming on the Omicron strain, the fact that it was going to spread so quickly, and that vaccinations were going to be less effective and it is doing the same with the new variant on the way.
Australia’s response to the pandemic has always been reactive rather than preventive and has become even more so in recent times. It would be much better to put a lot more effort into preparing for the worst, and the only was to do this is to expand the public health sector.
This means building sufficient and well-equipped mobile teams, which can be quickly deployed to any new infection breakouts. This could be supplemented by building a corps of trained volunteers, to carry out related non-medical functions. Back this with more funding and other forms of support for local health centres in touch with their local populations. Major hospitals could then be freed for dealing with the most serious cases. Provide more support, by making available a wider choice in effective treatments.
Health workers deserve a better deal than they are getting. When overworked with insufficient support, they get sick, and therefore another level of danger to the public. Pushing others to work, even if they are suffering from Covid, is irresponsible. They must be allowed to stay home, and this means, ensuring safe workplaces and sufficient financial support from the government. The levels originally brought in with JobKeeper and Jobseeker must be restored, if we want to get through this pandemic without a lot more people getting sick, dying, and poorer.