Is It Back?

Australian daily cases

Is Covid-19 on the way back in Australia? An alarming spike in positive cases (and in associated deaths) for the State of Victoria would indicate this.

Are we surprised? We needn’t have been. We should have expected something like this would happen.

Allow me then to claim a mix of foresight and hindsight. I believed from early in the piece that social activity opened up too early and that a spike might result. Not just in Victoria, but throughout the country. Now we – all of us – have the job of suppressing this latest spike, of first ‘flattening’ the curve, and then turning it over. Pointing it in the direction of zero. Like we did once before.

… we need to keep things in perspective. One pundit, who has presumably crunched the numbers, has pointed out that the daily number of positive cases in Victoria would have been reached in 14 minutes in the USA …

Comparisons aside, we don’t want the numbers we’ve now got. Most cases in Victoria in recent days appear to have happened through community transmission. A month or so earlier, the number of such cases in Victoria was in low single digits.

And how porous are State borders? Smaller outbreaks in New South Wales – mostly the result of community transmission – suggest things might be precarious there.

The last thing we want is for the Victorian spike to be replicated throughout Australia.

So how did this Victorian spike come about? What questionable practices brought it on?

The botched quarantine efforts, in which those overseeing the quarantine process mingled with those under quarantine, is almost certainly one. Having been infected, those doing the quarantining took it back to their families and friends. Textbook community transmission.

Then there is the situation in aged-care facilities, where poorly-paid casual employees move from one facility to another in the course of their work. Here is an arrangement that is almost by design doing the job of the virus. Who’s side are we on?

Then there were mixed or poorly understood messages about when one should isolate. The virus is so extremely infectious that this needs to be done right. A person coming down with mild symptoms, e.g. sore throat and/or mild fever that would ordinarily indicate cold or flu, should isolate from this moment, not from the moment they get a positive Covid-19 test result. But what if it turns out to be only a cold or flu? In such case, the person concerned should count himself/herself fortunate and move on.

The Victorian State Government appears to be aware of these poor practices, and is scrambling to put them right insofar as it is able. But the responsibility for isolating in a timely manner rests ultimately with each individual citizen. These days it is not alright to shuffle into work with cold-like symptoms, crowing self-righteously, ‘Rah, rah. Look what an excellent team player I am.’

For those whose employment comes with benefits such as sick leave, such a change in attitude should present no problem. But, over the decades, industrial relations in this country have become eroded. Many people these days are employed without essential benefits such as sick leave. Should these people now suffer financial hardship when they do the right thing by isolating when they get symptoms?

Perhaps the virus can teach us that civilized industrial relations policies benefit the whole of our society, not just their immediate beneficiaries.

Where to now?

Those who dare to make predictions in these Covid-ridden times are doomed to be proven wrong. Nobody has infallible knowledge when it comes to the future trajectory this novel virus is likely to take. Nevertheless, I feel it’s pissing in the wind to expect the rest of Australia will avoid the sort of spike seen in Victoria. After all, the whole country, not just Victoria, opened up early.

It’s sad for me to see the State in which most of my formative years were bedded down suffer in this way. But the State in which I now live – my adopted State, Queensland – is by no means out of the woods yet. If this virus had a brain, we would have to concede it not only a genius IQ, but also oodles upon oodles of street-smart.

We have brains. We will need to be at least as clever if we are to bring this outbreak under control.