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Can Australia's government learn from COVID-19?

Covid-19 is a warning. We can take it as such or ignore it if we get through it and come out the other side.

High density, high population, high throughput, globalised manufacturing, global high mobility, are not working for us now. When we first learned in January of the outbreak of Covid -19 in Wuhan my first thought was that "This will be in Melbourne soon." Thirty years ago, I would not have had such a thought because China was so distant and separate. I was right, within a few days it was in Melbourne. On January 25th Australia had its first four cases, the first in Melbourne and another three in Sydney. At this time the city of Wuhan in China was in "lockdown".

I was most alarmed to learn that the disease could be spread by people with no symptoms, and that many did not have symptoms. For me that was the key piece of information that should have dictated government protocol to manage contagion.

By March 2nd, the first two cases of community transmission of Covid -19 were reported in Sydney. One was a woman who caught if from her brother recently returned from Iran and the second was a health care worker, working in close proximity with patients. On March 13th, the Victorian health department announced nine new cases of coronavirus in Victoria, including the state’s first community transmission, and it is now being transmitted at an alarming rate. As at 6.30 p.m. March 28th, Victoria's total case numbers were 685.

Now Victoria is in partial lockdown. We are being asked to stay home as much as possible. Businesses have been closed down, sporting facilities are closed, even beaches are closed in Melbourne. How did our governments let it come to this? If I could see it coming, they should have seen it coming. Why were governments apparently powerless to stop it?

Finally, the Tasmanian Government is now not letting people arrive from the mainland without quarantine. I heard a commentator say that this takes advantage of its geographical status as an island. That’s great, but the rest of Australia is also an island! We have blown our chance to stay clear of this scourge. If we had not blown our chances, people would not have had to die or lose their jobs. To me it is a debacle.

So, people will be spending a lot more time at home. The trouble is that "home" is not what it was thirty years ago. Home is now more likely to be an apartment, rather than a house with a garden. For those with a garden, it is far easier to endure days on end without going outside one's home, than it is for someone in a one-bedroom flat.

Lockdown arrangements have been introduced incrementally, which strikes me as policy on the run, and smacks of "shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted." We hear that schools must remain open and then they are closed. We heard the Prime Minister saying that he is going to a rugby match when most of the people I know had been avoiding crowds for at least a couple of weeks.

Why was a protocol not in place for protecting Australia's population? Now people have died, more will get sick and die, people out of work could lose their houses. The fallout is immense. The only thing I can think of giving the Australian government credit for is being ahead of the even more sluggish World Health Organisation, in declaring Covid-19 a pandemic.

The neo-liberal economy, globalisation, and the pandemic.

The very arrangement that makes money for the few is a bad arrangement for the many. Goods and labour move around the world as though geographical distance were meaningless. The movement of ships spreads environmental pests. The movement of people spreads disease. With the increased population density in Melbourne and other cities, due to rapid population growth, mostly from overseas migration, we in Australia are more likely to have close encounters with strangers than we would have had before Australia’s population numbers were ramped up. On a day like today - sunny and warm in autumn - we crave a walk outside. We think of the beach, but hesitate because others will be thinking the same, and it will be hard to walk on the now defined pathway without encountering people at close quarters, even briefly.

Victorian Senator Sarah Henderson was heard on the ABC a few days ago, saying that she had been a strong proponent of upgrades to the Great Ocean Road but now she urges people not to come to coastal towns even if they own "holiday houses" there. The recent obsession with increased mobility in this state is now something that will only serve Covid -19. Small towns have welcomed the commerce that tourism brings, but now it is unimportant compared with the need to stay isolated.

Australia's ailing economy: Economic stimulation means increasing human transactions and disease transmission

Stimulus packages surely are meant to stimulate the very behaviour that spreads the disease. They contradict moves to save the health of the nation. That is, they aim to increase economic activity, to wit transactions, whilst locking down decreases transactions. The responsibility of the government now is to support the population directly affected by the measures taken to save the health of the population. Those people directly affected are paying a big price.

This plague was forecast

Scientists have warned us for decades that a pandemic was overdue. We even knew it was likely to come from China in the form of a zoonose. We got a real-time warning when we first knew of the deadly virus in Wuhan. Despite all these warnings, we did not act quickly enough and we are now dealing with an exponentially rising number of Covid-19 cases. Our lives have been de-railed. Next time, we need to be ready to pull up the drawbridge sooner. We also need to be prepared in terms of manufactured goods. Supermarkets need to have warehouse supplies. Deliveries "just in time" are inadequate. We need more medical and nursing staff. We cannot just wear our health workers into the ground. Hospital cleaners and hospital management need to be prepared and knowledgeable in disinfection protocols and practices. Government needs to have more of a role in the economic structure of the country, taking health into account as an absolute priority, even if it's not economically rational!

When this crisis has passed will we go back to "Business as Usual," and again flounder just as badly when Covid -21 or 23 arrives?

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Comments

The following is the beginning of a media release from Daniel Andrews , Premier of Victoria on March 30th 2020. I am posting this so we can keep up with the numbers.
"Over the last two days we have seen the number of cases of coronavirus in Victoria increase by 136 to 821. Four people have already died, many more are in hospital or self-isolating at home......" I note that the offical website has not been updated to this number for Victoria. 821 is the number but of course there will be many more as yet unidentified.