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.