Politics Opinion

Absence of mandates means no end in sight for pandemic

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

Politicians seem to have abandoned plans to stop the COVID-19 pandemic from continuing to wipe us out, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

THE PREVAILING attitudes to COVID-19 (the pandemic is over, it's no worse than a cold, everyone will get it, vaccination alone will prevent infection, people must take personal responsibility) have their genesis in the economy-centred neoliberalism of the former L-NP Government led by Scott Morrison.

That Morrison is also a leading member of a Pentecostal cult that scorns all governance in favour of God’s rule may also have influenced his decision (thankfully initially moderated by state premiers) to go full “laissez-faire” in his attitude to the virus, letting it rip with a minimum of government intervention in the belief that those who survived were chosen by God and those who did not should have prayed more.

Society would be all the better for having culled the non-believers, is the general direction of Pentecostal thinking.

The pandemic was the elephant in the room during the election campaign. Neither major party wanted to mention it. Morrison’s chaotic manner of governing, adopted from U.S. President Donald Trump’s former chief advisor, Steve Bannon, and centred on his infamous exhortation to flood the zone with shit had everyone off-balance, as it is designed to do, making the pandemic easier to overlook.

Consequently, what many consider to be a significant challenge to humanity, the management of a virulent virus that kills and maims and about which we know too little shamefully did not figure in the election face-off.

However, what has left many of us reeling is the new Federal Labor Government’s continuation of Morrison’s personal responsibility doctrine, along with the governments of all states and territories, the majority of whom are Labor.

In spite of surging COVID infections around the country, hospitals under extraordinary pressure, workforces affected by sickness, non–COVID patients unable to access medical care and elective surgery, increased risks of debilitating long COVID as recorded overseas and multiple infections from new strains as the temporary immunity window reduces to a mere 28 days, no government will mandate any preventative measure, instead outsourcing their public health responsibilities to individual choice.

Governments have shifted their strategies entirely from prevention to adaptation. Masking up is your personal choice and there’s always anti-virals if you don’t choose wisely. Whilst nobody would today choose to attempt a zero COVID policy, the notion that the only other option is treatment rather than prevention is, given the nature of the virus, delusional.

How are we to adapt to a rapidly mutating virus, the long-term effects of which we already know can be seriously disabling? 

Health experts argue for the reintroduction of mask mandates as a fundamental preventative measure, while politicians insist that masking up is a personal choice. Politicians claim to be making their decisions based on expert advice, a claim that increasingly appears entirely false as experts intensify their calls and politicians continue to refuse to hear them.

Clearly, politicians are not willing to risk unpopularity by taking responsibility. Clearly, we need better politicians who better understand their job.

And clearly, with the notable absence of masks in public spaces, the appeal to “personal responsibility” is not working. “If it’s really important, the Government would mandate it; if we can choose, it doesn’t matter that much, does it?” is, while entirely wrong, an understandable conclusion at which to arrive. 

“If you won’t mandate, at least educate” should be our strong message to governments, because at the moment, apart from the occasional request to mask up, there’s not much happening to educate the public on prevention.

Masks are not a gateway to lockdowns. Vaccination does not prevent COVID infection. One infection does not protect you from acquiring another. Anti-virals are not available to everyone and can be difficult to obtain. You can, if you are unfortunate, contract COVID every 28 days. You may get long COVID, which will seriously affect your life. You may infect others who may die. As long as we share the air that we breathe, precautions are not just a personal choice.

These and other reasons are why we should be doing our best to prevent and educate, rather than “adapt”.

Politicians, no matter what their stripe, should be treated with derision and contempt for their disgraceful failure to step up and make education and prevention of COVID their primary goal, rather than the ludicrous concept of adaptation achieved through personal responsibility.   

As recently as January 2022, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, then leader of the opposition, declared:

 “The ‘let it rip’ approach is creating major issues in our health system, with people under such enormous pressure.”

The approach, he added, “is tearing communities apart. That’s the truth”.

Why has your thinking changed so drastically in the intervening months, Prime Minister, despite surging infections, escalating breakdown in our health systems, communities ravaged by illness and an increasingly incapacitated workforce?

Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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