The decision to reduce COVID isolation periods is one that defies common sense and seems shrouded in secrecy, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.
FROM FRIDAY 9 September, isolation requirements for people with COVID and no symptoms will be cut from seven days to five, despite it being well established that transmission without symptoms does occur.
This is a decision made by the National Cabinet following ‘fresh advice from Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd’. This advice was unwritten, and no modelling was presented to the Cabinet.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has refused to release this “fresh advice” despite the Australian Medical Association, which was not consulted, expressing considerable confusion as to what the advice could possibly be.
For a new government committed to transparency, refusal to release health advice on the reduction of isolation periods appears, at first blush, an invitation to mistrust and suspicion. After all, if there is new advice that this is an appropriate move, why not release it?
Instead, after pledging to change the way politics is done in this country, the PM has chosen to maintain a secrecy set in motion by former PM Scott Morrison, as well as passing the responsibility to the states for informing people (or not).
Interestingly, none of the leaders who form the National Cabinet appears to be inclined to share this “fresh advice” with those who elected them.
If there are sound reasons for concealment, it would behove Mr Albanese to reveal them. To refuse to reveal both the advice and the reason for concealing it is a serious blow to the Government’s commitment to transparency. That the issue is centred around the significant matter of public health in the midst of a pandemic only makes transparency more necessary and urgent.
Reducing the isolation period from seven to five days does not conclusively reduce the infectious period, a fact that seems to have escaped politicians and business leaders, many of whom appear to credit the virus with a biddable consciousness. Because politicians demand a shorter period of isolation does not mean the virus will co-operate and cease to spread.
This thinking is in the same vein as former U.S. President Donald Trump’s unforgettable observation that if you don’t test as many for COVID, fewer people will have it.
For some time now, we have heard various political and business leaders claim that “we cannot continue to treat this [pandemic] as an emergency”, that “people are tired” of restrictions and it is time to move on, accepting COVID as we do flu and winter colds. Pandemic fatigue is indisputably a thing and has been for some time now.
However, this arguably has as much to do with how the narrative is framed as it does with the real inconvenience the virus continues to impose on our daily lives.
For example, there really is no need to continue describing COVID as an “emergency” in the sense of lockdowns and border closures. It is no longer being treated as such – despite infections, hospitalisations and deaths – and hasn’t been for some time.
If you tell people they’re in an emergency situation they need to get out of while simultaneously behaving as if they are not, stress, fatigue, confusion and resentment will be the result.
Instead of pushing the “we cannot continue to live in an emergency” narrative, we could instead frame COVID as it now is — an ongoing virus that we should be doing everything reasonable to avoid spreading. The conflation of lockdowns and border closures with masking and other non-demanding precautions has caused us to ditch everything and depend entirely on vaccination.
There is a vast difference between wearing a mask and closing a border, yet our leaders would have you believe they have the same impact on our daily lives.
Protecting ourselves and others against infection should not be described as being in a state of emergency — it should be a daily part of life to which we can adjust with fundamental precautions such as masks, hand cleaning, social distancing and adequate isolation when infected.
Instead, we have leaders who are incapable of accepting that COVID has changed the way we live and are determined to return us to what they consider to be “normality”. This version of normality is only for the privileged. Anyone with any kind of vulnerability cannot share it.
This yearning for a lost “normality” is a yearning for the time when we didn’t have to concern ourselves with a dangerous virus. In the minds of our leaders, ditching all precautions is all that is needed to transport us back to that innocent time. The stupidity could make your eyes bleed.
As well, the abandonment of all precautions against COVID so the privileged can feel less put upon will take its toll on the vulnerable. This is where we are now. It is disturbing that the new Labor Government has put us there.
Dr Jennifer Wilson is an IA columnist, a psychotherapist and an academic. You can follow Jennifer on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.
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