It’s been a strange but instructive six or so months since COVID-19 disrupted our lives, some more so than others.
It’s either a black cosmic joke or there are a few lessons we can take out of the experience.
Here are just five that I hope will resonate:
1. Don’t mess with nature.
Hey, it wasn’t our fault. It’s the China virus after all, and didn’t it originate in a wildlife market with live bats?
Yeah, but scientists have been warning us for years about zoonotic diseases and Australia has had its fair share with the likes of Hendra virus, Australian bat lyssavirus, Brucellosis and Q fever.
We’re not immune from creating environments where these bugs can cross over to humans, or persisting with industrial farming practices that compromise animal health and leave us exposed to god knows what.
The United Nations Environment Programme and the International Livestock Research Institute say they are driven by assaults on the natural environment – for example through land degradation, wildlife exploitation, resource extraction and climate change – which alter the way animals and humans interact.
COVID-19 is just another warning, if we really need it, that we need to clean up our act.
2. It’s always good to have a Plan B.
When Scotty from marketing told us we’d be back in the black and even ordered some coffee mugs to mark the occasion there were more than a few Cassandras who warned us not to be so sure.
A bushfire or two later, and then COVID-19, and it’s going to be a while before we are anywhere near the black again. Not only that but sectors of the economy we had taken for granted are no longer functioning – that’s hospitality, entertainment and tourism – and supply chains for some basics and medical equipment are disrupted.
It’s alerted us to the ephemeral nature of those sectors, to what we no longer make in this country and how dependent we are on other places, particularly one that isn’t exactly too friendly at the moment. So let’s not assume that what is will always be.
3. We have enough baristas.
We thought the economy could get by on digging holes, building apartments and making coffee for visitors, fed by global travel and the easy sugar hit of migration.
The pandemic has reminded us that real skills that lead to actually making stuff for ourselves might be better than the caffeine economy. We’d been led to believe that manufacturing was so last century and something we could leave to others.
Maybe the geniuses doing risk analysis can come up with a retooled economy that creates real and smart jobs, and doesn’t leave us at the mercy of the world.
Canberra is the ideal place to refocus on education and the new-tech needed for the new clean economy.
4. Flexible for whom?
During a pandemic, having millions of workers in insecure and low-paid jobs without sick leave has not been a clever country thing to do.
It’s been great while it lasted for employers running dubious business models but this sort of structural weakness is bad long term for the economy as well as society, especially if things have to stop for a while when a strange virus decides to take a tour of the country.
5. Put care above profit.
We knew for-profit aged care was on the nose before the pandemic, but the ongoing roll call of folk being called up yonder has laid bare the awfulness of the system.
Poorly paid, casualised labour that works multiple shifts at multiple sites has spread the virus and exacerbated the death rates in aged care. Even before COVID-19, this has been going on with flu and gastro.
It’s time to rethink the model, reregulate (with teeth) and put our golden oldies first, instead of their golden nest eggs.
And just where did all those billions of dollars of federal funding for the aged-care industry go?
It’s time our caring professions were properly valued and remunerated.