Contributed by Joe Montero
Australia is not facing the present Covid reality. Since last year, government has been messaging that we have come out of the dark tunnel and are in the post-Covid era. An election and change of government haven’t changed this.
This doesn’t match the reality, and the contradiction between what we are told and real life, has left much of Australia confused. Complacency and disregard for precautions have set in. At the same time, there a sense of fear. Pre-Covid normal life has not returned. Many still fear going out and engaging with the world.
On the one hand, the message that all is under control gets through. On the other, just about everyone knows that the statistics tell a very different story.
Australia has now passed 10,000 Covid caused deaths and a massive blowout in infections and hospital admissions. Some 9,000 of the deaths have taken place in the last 6 months. There have been more than 8.5 million infections. The outbreak on the cruise ship Coral Princess has grabbed the headlines.
These facts put the scale of the unadmitted crisis into perspective. Many more are going to die. Tens of thousands are going to be left with ongoing illness.
Photo from the Daily Telegraph: The Coral Princes at the dock in Sydney
Talking about perspective. Given Australia’s population, the toll is comparable, in percentage terms, to the other badly performing nations. If our population were that of the United States, our death toll would have been around 100,000. If Australia hadn’t of been blessed with the isolation provided by the oceans surrounding us, the toll would have been much worse.
Compare this with China’s Covid toll at just over 22,000 deaths and a fifth of the world’s population.
The single biggest contributor to a nation’s success or failure in this battle is the capacity of its health system, and Australia’s is at breaking point. Covid hospitalisations are currently at a rate of 5,00 a day, and according to health researchers, the peak hasn’t arrived yet.
There has been no proportionate increase in hospital funding, which means already stretched resources are being stretched even further. If the damage form Covid is going to be minimised, reversing government underinvestment in the health system is a necessity.
So is stepping back into precaution measures to slow down how many are infected. This is the reason why health professionals are calling for a return to wearing masks in public, prioritising distancing, and hygiene measures. This includes the Australian Medical Association and the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine. They are speaking out against ongoing government inaction.
Inaction has been helped by a combination of over emphasis on mandatory vaccination and the fiction that exposure will create immunity. This has prevented a multipronged approach. Government has been seduced by doing it on the cheap. But it is those nations emphasising spending on the health system and preventative action with the capacity to dispatch sufficient infection testing teams to sources of infection that are faring the best. They do not rely too much on vaccinations.
This helps to explain why western nations have done so badly as a whole. For decades now, they have been burdened with an obsession for neoliberalism, and its insistence on cutting government expenditure and the privatisation of government responsibilities, for the purpose of transferring resources to the private sector. Their response to Covid has been conditioned by the same ideology.
This description fits Australia, and it’s a bipartisan approach shared by the major political parties. It is disarming Australia’s capacity to properly take on the challenge that Covid has brought and will likely remain with us for the foreseeable future. New variations of the infection already exist and are yet to inflict their damage.
Australia must turn away from the neoliberal ideology and embrace the need to upgrade the health system as a public good and take a multifaceted approach to prevention of infections, for the objective of minimising the death toll and the number of people getting sick.