What is the new normal?

Australia stands at a difficult crossroads in its fight against COVID-19. I look at the situation in the US and despair: California surpassed two million cases on Christmas Eve.

Christmas gatherings in the US will no doubt fuel further cases – there were estimates that 85 million people would travel during the festive season.

A friend who lives there remains upbeat. He tells me they reckon the US will have herd immunity by the end of next summer.

I mentioned to him that I watch the NSW Health press conference at 11am every morning like it’s the latest blockbuster and he replied: “It used to be like that here but now everyone just lives (and dies) with the virus as part of new normal.”

I can’t imagine feeling that way, but my pragmatism has me wondering how long the various Aussie states and territories can keep making snap decisions to close borders before it brings our hospitality and tourism industry to its knees?

Peter Hook, principal of Hook Communications, noted on LinkedIn a few days ago: “The world – and that includes Australia – is going to have to live with COVID for quite some time. But it shouldn’t be a case of ‘either tourism or COVID’ as unfortunately seems to be the position of some local authorities (who may see political capital ahead of the economic livelihoods of their constituents). A small cluster in an isolated peninsula on the extreme outskirts of a city shouldn’t bring a nation’s tourism industry to a crashing halt…but it has.” 

Will a vaccine make a difference? Opinion is divided.

First, there are the concerns it has been rushed out too quickly. The South China Morning Post notes: “As the most ambitious inoculation initiative in history begins in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, compensation for potential side-effects is a key issue as governments try to strike a balance between obtaining supplies of vaccines and protecting the public.”

Federal health minister Greg Hunt has announced that Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout is expected to be complete by the end of October.

“We want to urge as many Australians to be vaccinated as possible, and we’ve seen some very heartening reports over the weekend of an expected uptake of up to 80%,” he said. “In order to do that, they have to have the confidence that our regulators are making sure that every safety step is taken, and we’re ticking all of those boxes just a little bit earlier than expected.”

Even if those boxes are ticked, the World Health Organization‘s chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said she is yet to see any evidence an inoculated person could enter Australia without the risk of spreading the virus. 

“I don’t believe we have the evidence on any of the vaccines to be confident that it’s going to prevent people from actually getting the infection and therefore being able to pass it on,” Dr Swaminathan told The Sydney Morning Herald

She said there needs to be an assumption those vaccinated “also need to take the same precautions till there’s a certain level of herd immunity”.

Australia is pursuing suppression/elimination, which means we are unlikely to gain herd immunity. I think we have been incredibly fortunate not to endure the hell involved in achieving it. But the big question is: how do we avoid permanently cutting ourselves off from the world – and the ultra-cautious states of Australia – without it?   

Infectious diseases expert Adam Kamradt-Scott from the University of Sydney told Nine newspapers: “At this point in time, I would be (expecting) we are going to be living with the virus at least for the next five years, and it may never go away.”

This high school-educated blogger doesn’t know the answer to how we strike the right balance for the future, but I’m not sure Australia has nailed its long-term approach to the “new normal”.

In the meantime, I wait for Gladys’ 11am announcement about case numbers in NSW. Still no one in ICU, but don’t let that fool you into thinking COVID isn’t a terrible disease. An Aussie designer living in New York wrote on Facebook overnight:

“I could never have imagined a virus so strong and so violent. It moves fast and acts in agressive ways to shut down your body from the inside out. It targets different parts of the body at unpredictable times. One morning I was sitting freezing cold inside my warm heated apartment. Other days coughing was so bad that I had to lay on the floor in a foetel position while gripping my chest. I take tiny short breaths out of fear that it doesn’t set off another coughing fit. It causes anxiety to the extreme and I’ve never suffered anxiety before. When my anxiety compromised my breathing, my friend called 911 and I’ve been in hospital since Friday recovering and taking a wide range of medications to protect all the parts of my body that are currently under attack. Codine to reduce coughing. Tylenol to prevent Covid from trying to clot my blood. Steroids to protect my moving parts from closing in and collapsing suddenly. If death is 0% and health is 100%, I certainly found out this week what 20% felt like. Imagine the feeling of being stuck between two busses crashing head-on. It’s just been the most painful ordeal and the most frustrating part is that it’s like a vicious Rottweiler that refuses to let go. Physically and mentally drained.
It’s been 14 days and the last 2 days have shown the most improvement and I’m feeling better thanks to receiving the same Remdesivir antiviral insulin that Trump received. I’ll never take the risks of infection for granted.”

COVID still feels like a nightmare we will wake up from one day. It seems impossible that a year ago we’d never heard of it. I was so blasé back in January when reports started emerging from Wuhan. Now I wonder when a day will go by that’s not shaped in some way by the illness.

Today definitely isn’t that day, but there are dogs to walk and stories to write, so I’ll catch you tomorrow with a NYE post that’s more light hearted.

One thought on “What is the new normal?

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  1. I understand travel is severely limited for Australians (including my gorgeous Goldfinch) but they normal every day way of life seems to have been so much more superior to that of many people in the UK. People are very tired after all the restrictions placed upon them.
    One of the problems we seem to face is that some people carry the virus and have no symptoms. They can become vehicles for the virus without realizing it. We think that someone who has been vaccinated can still be a vehicle for the virus even if it does not make them ill. Which seems to be why they want a huge uptake of the vaccine. It seems as long as we interact with each other we could be or might not be (we don’t know because it is invisible) passing on an illness that somewhere down the line can make someone vulnerable very ill or be fatal.

    I have been intensely busy with work – so for me the past 9 1/2 months have flown by. My time off I have spent walking outdoors – which I love. It is hard not seeing family in other parts of the country and I was real upset when I realized I was not going to be able to come to Adelaide and my flight was cancelled.

    I understand the concern of how the loss of tourism would effect the economy in Australia. But the repeated lockdowns here are causing huge problems to the economy here too – especially in city centres hospitality is really struggling. If businesses have not yet found a way to adapt – they are in big trouble.

    But the saddest thing is the many thousands who have died. I find it hard to understand why anyone thinks this pandemic is a hoax (we still see people protesting saying it is all a con). I have seen patients suffer and I have seen death and I have seen families grieve. I have also seen fairly young people who had the virus and have been left with severe depletion of energy and mobility problems.

    In so many ways, I am glad Australia has avoided so much of that. I also get the impression from Goldfinch that he is enjoying life in a way we can only imagine right now here in London. He says he is hoping that the vaccine will open up the world again for Australia. But from what I read and what I have heard – it seems that the effect of the vaccine will only be felt at the end of 20201.

    Here in the UK the issue of “herd immunity” is strongly contended. It seems as archaic as “survival of the fittest”. This year we learnt that there was no way on earth we can going to let those notions fly. We were going to do everything it took, shut down everything virtually to protect the vulnerable. And there are some people who think we should just let the weak die – but the rest of us are horrified by that!

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