25 August 2021

Tempting as it is, now's not the time to play the COVID blame game

| Zoya Patel
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Empty streets

Canberra’s playing by the rules, but the mental toll of lockdown is starting to mount. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

In the past week and a half, Canberrans have had just a small taste of the hard lockdowns experienced in other states and territories, and the effects are already being seen when it comes to our mental health.

As the novelty has worn off and the reality sets in, many of us are starting to feel fatigued, frustrated and stressed about how long this could go on – and that’s just those of us who are lucky enough not to have to worry about keeping our jobs or living with compromised immunity.

When faced with a situation like this, where circumstances outside our control limit our individual choices and actions, and when we feel increasingly helpless in the face of infection rates and a virus that seems to out-trick us every time, it’s easy to look for someone to blame.

Whether it’s blaming the government for rolling out lockdown measures too quickly, or too slowly; or lashing out at family and friends who are hesitating to get vaccinated, or taking to social media to rant against people not following lockdown measures the way they should – there’s lots of scope to channel our rage.

READ MORE Surviving (another) lockdown: Dr Thewes on finding routine, home-schooling and limiting screen time

But despite there being plenty of valid reasons to criticise each other and our leaders, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this brief foray into lockdown land, it’s that blaming people is meaningless in the face of a pandemic that actually doesn’t discriminate.

COVID doesn’t play by human rules – it’s a virus that can and has gotten to people across the complete spectrum of cultures, ages, backgrounds, political persuasions and beliefs. At this point in the pandemic, trying to pin the blame for how the virus is spreading is splitting hairs because it’s inevitable that it will spread, and all we can do is try to limit the spread and prevent infections through vaccinations.

Unfortunately, as our reactions to COVID become more polarised and the vaccination issue becomes politicised, we risk moving ever further from that goal.

I’m not above the blame game myself.

I have a relative who was very opposed to getting the AstraZeneca vaccine and was not totally sold on Pfizer either. He wasn’t eligible for the latter, and despite living with immuno-compromised family members, he was really digging his heels about getting the jab. I felt nothing but frustration – I thought it was immature, ignorant, and frankly dangerous for him to ignore the best health advice and continue to remain unvaccinated because my own viewpoint was that the risk was balanced against the reward of moving out of lockdown sooner.

But of course, it isn’t as simple as right and wrong.

READ MORE What I’ve learned from lockdown 2.0

A week ago, after a death in the family (not COVID-related), this relative booked himself in for his first jab – grief had made him realise that he wanted to do everything he could to live life as fully as possible. Despite his concerns, he was willing to get vaccinated if it was going to help him get out of lockdown sooner and protect his family. It was a journey he had to go through in his own time and a decision that he needed to make himself, not by being pressured by us.

Because the conversation publicly had gotten so polarised, he felt awkward about telling his family about his decision, as though he would be mocked for it or have to suffer an ‘I told you so’ or two. Instead, we just told him we were glad he did it and left it at that.

The last thing we need right now is to make COVID the grounds for more culture wars and blame games. People have all manner of reasons for how they’re approaching the pandemic, and like most major issues, the nuances and complexities are lost in the public debate.

When we rush to identify individuals who have brought the virus into Canberra and to pinpoint what they did wrong; or when we rail against those who haven’t yet been vaccinated or criticise the politicians trying to respond to the pandemic, we’re making it harder to retain a sense of community at a time when we are more isolated than ever before.

Yes, there is a distinction between right and wrong in the pandemic, and there are people who are flouting lockdown laws and knowingly endangering others. But there are way more people genuinely trying to do the right thing, interpreting information as they get it, and attempting to live their lives while coping with a lot of stress, anxiety and fear. They’ll get it wrong sometimes. We’re only human, and that’s inevitable. But we can only get it right if we work together.

Let’s focus on the bigger picture and try and get through this as a community – no amount of blame and conflict will change the fact that COVID is here and we have to respond together to get back to enjoying our city fully.

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They’re already playing the blame game among themselves –

‘ “Senior NSW Liberals say the same background briefing tactics used against Brittany Higgins and Julia Banks are being deployed against Berejiklian, all designed to blame her for the NSW calamity, not his vaccination debacle,” Savva wrote.’


Financial Review 28/8:
“Increasingly, Australians, especially those locked down again for months on end, their businesses destroyed, their children’s education severely damaged, their lives miserable, no longer believe this is the best way to handle the pandemic.”
I’m one of them.

Going by what I saw on sunrise this morning (an interview with a News Corp “Jurno” about her opinion piece being published in news Corp papers) and your comment on the AFR article it does look very much like the government has engaged old mate Rupert’s propaganda machine.

Not taking away for one moment the impact and sentiment (I’m in much the same boat) just pointing out the huge amount of politicking and propaganda going on at present. The irony is the opinion piece was telling “free” states to stop politicking and using the sentiment you expressed as the justification.

Yes indeed Simon Valentine. We’ll continue to hear from the apologists no doubt, but let’s at least hope that most of the key figures learn from their mistakes.

In its latest outbreak, Victoria locked down hard and fast like people are suggesting is where NSW failed.

But cases are still increasing in Victoria despite these actions and their lockdown is almost certain to be extended. Perhaps these situations are more complex than some want to make them out to be?

No doubt, but unlike ideologically conflicted NSW, we can be fairly confident the Victorians will ramp up their response even further if warranted.

They’ve gone to their harshest lockdown settings already, are you expecting tanks on the streets as a next move?

Seems some other people might be ideologically conflicted also. As I said, it’s almost like it might be slightly more complex.

I’m guessing they might try the equivalent of blackout wardens well before tanks.

Sydney’s case numbers are about ten times more than Victoria. Sydney has now recorded the largest case number in one day and has, overall the largest tally of COVID infections. NSW has categorically failed in its duty to protect its citizens from COVID. It’s “patchwork quilt” style of lockdown doesn’t work and leads to confusing and nonsensical outcomes such as one side of King St Newtown being not under lockdown and the other side being under lockdown.

And Victoria’s death count is 7 times that of NSW, so who has really failed their citizens?

And nowhere have I suggested that Victoria is currently in the same position as NSW, although 5 weeks ago NSW also thought the same thing.

The broader point holds, apparently hard and fast lockdowns work, yet Victoria’s case numbers are currently increasing despite that apparent “fact”. Once again, it’s almost like it’s more complex than the binary argument you’re (poorly) attempting to present.

Hi Chewy, simply stating a fact that NSW is recording ten times the number of COVID infections than Victoria. Since Victoria imposed hard and fact lockdowns their numbers came down in the first wave and in the second, Delta, wave are staying a lot lower than NSW. I understand that the Daily Rupert is running one of their propaganda campaigns to sacrifice lives on the altar of big business. Not surprising that a huge business like News Corps would do this however it’s even funnier when they can get people to chant in lockstep with them. The recent WA election results show which side most people support. ACT lockdown has also shown good results. Health authorities support lockdowns. So looks like you and the Daily Rupert are outnumbered on this one.

most of the deaths in the initial Victorian outbreak were in aged care homes, which, as you would know, are a Federal government responsibility.

Can’t see where I’ve opposed lockdowns, perhaps you can point it out rather than lazy and ignorant ramblings about “Rupert”?

My point is its far more complex than a what you’re trying to present.

The trajectory of the Victorian outbreak is not really different than NSW was 5 weeks ago despite their hard lockdown. Hopefully their controls work but it isn’t a given considering that no government is truly in control of what their citizens do.

And strange that everywhere else in Australia also has aged care homes, yet didn’t have those same death rates as Victoria. I don’t blame the Victorian government for those deaths, nor do I blame the Feds.

As I said, it’s more complex than the people who only see through one eye could ever admit to themselves.

Today’s statistics. NSW: 1,035; Victoria: 64. Of course it is complex, however the numbers are showing what is obviously happening in NSW. Their late an patchy lockdown has clearly not worked. Victoria does not have runaway case numbers.

Yes, thanks for confirming that the Victorian case numbers are not reducing despite their harsh lockdown status for the last 3 weeks.

2 weeks ago, they were averaging 20 cases per day, now they are averaging 65, the trend is still upwards. They haven’t run away (yet) and hopefully they don’t but as above the position that hard, fast lockdowns are a panacea for this virus isn’t borne out because of the many confounding factors.

The right who continuing to criticise the aged deaths on the Vic Govt, is tiresome.

Aged care facilities were the responsibility of Morrison Govt, and they failed miserably and continue to blame everyone else but themselves. Their supporters continue to push this garbage.

That’s ok happy to keep you informed of the numbers. Victoria could have been up where NSW is now if they hadn’t put in place the lockdown that has previously worked well there. ACT has a similar policy and has seen an increase, although thankfully, not runaway numbers in the way Sydney is suffering. It seems that following a proper lockdown and not “lockdown lite” (Sydney style) will get us back on track. As aspirational as Gladys’s words are, the numbers aren’t supporting her.

What part of increasing numbers are you not understand?

3 weeks into NSW lockdown, from low numbers initially, they averaged 80 cases for the week.

3 weeks into Victoria’s most recent lockdown from low numbers initially, they’ve averaged 65.

I truly hope you’re right for Victoria’s sake, but your faith seems to be on the very optimistic side.

Hi Chewy, we’re all concerned with increasing numbers in any state, however it is clearly NSW that has the runaway problem here. You just don’t like that as it tarnishes the “Gold Standard Gladys” line and you don’e like being proved wrong.

Can you give me an update on Victoria’s numbers today?

Oh, and any announcements on when the lockdown will end?

Sure, here are today’s numbers: NSW = 1,218. Victoria = 92. In answer to your question about lockdowns all the south eastern states have extended their lockdowns, even Gold Standard Glad, although the patchwork quilt still applies in NSW whilst the numbers skyrocket and the hospitals are put under increasing pressure. You’re welcome.

Interesting that Victoria have announced today that they are also giving up on the zero Covid dream and have admitted that their case numbers will continue to rise in a similar fashion to what has occurred in NSW.

Really puts paid to some of the simplistic claims being made above.

As Victoria promptly locked down in a comprehensive way, they are nowhere near the COVID case numbers of NSW, whose lockdown has obviously failed. Sadly, NSW’s lockdown lite has led to case numbers which o any given day are up to ten times that of Victoria. This has serious implications for their hospital systems, including Code Yellow situations being declared in two major hospitals. Of course we are all hoping that vaccination rates increase quickly enough so that we can move to more normal arrangements when it is safe to do so. Sadly the Federal Government to realise the need for a mass vaccination so we are now still in the position of lockdowns to maintain our health systems. Hope this has clarified things for you.

Must really be hard for you when reality intrudes on your ideology.

Anyone that looks at the trajectory of both the NSW and Victorian outbreaks from the beginning would see they look almost identical when overlaid. I know numbers aren’t your thing, but you do know what exponential growth means right?

Victoria has now adopted the same general strategy as NSW despite you thinking it’s a monstrous “failure” of government.

The good thing that Victoria has going for them is time (4 weeks advantage). Time now to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, so they can limit the impacts on their hospital system through September and October until we begin hitting higher vaccination targets.

“I know numbers aren’t your thing…” 1,288 cases today in NSW. There’s a number for you. Gladys says “Let’s go on a picnic.” Honestly, if you’re falling for that line when the AMA is saying the hospital system is not coping, then you clearly need to have a credulity check. We can agree on the fact hat more vaccinations are necessary and Australia was slow off the mark (“It’s not a race”). Victoria’s policy of clearer and firmer lockdowns where necessary has kept their numbers much lower than NSW, where the numbers (even to a numerically challenged person such as yourself) are out of control. Everyone wants to open up as soon as it is safe to do so but clearly that’s not the case right now so best stick to the science and, for once, drop your failed ideological position. It just isn’t convincing when the numbers are clearly not in your favour.

Sometimes it really is like talking to a brick wall, but i’m a sucker for educating.

You claim that Victoria’s lockdown is resulting in the current lower case numbers compared to NSW which is just nonsensical for anyone with even a passing interest in the topic.

Sydney went into your claimed horribly inadequate lockdown between the 24th-26th June.

Victoria went into their “amazing, hard, strong, good, super effective” lockdown on the 4th August.

NSW is over a month further into their outbreak. Because the outbreaks have an R value in both NSW and Victoria that is well above 1, they are both growing exponentially despite the impacts of their respective lockdowns and health controls.

Anyone sensible would compare the numbers at the equivalent point in their outbreaks. Working from the beginning as day 1 and moving forward.

Here’s some data, go play with it to compare how the curves look on a like for like basis from the start of the outbreaks. They are extremely similar. So if the hard lockdown is so effective compared to Sydney, why would that be the case?


At least the Victorian government has acknowledged reality, or as the Victorian health minister said today:

“But you’ve got to follow the advice of the science. Delta has changed the script,” he said of the highly transmissible variant of coronavirus.”

But what would he know about his own government’s approach or the expert epidemiologic advice he’s being provided with, apparently you know better.

Sorry I forgot to update you this week. Here are the current numbers.

5 weeks in to NSW’s horribly ineffectual lockdown last month.
7 day average cases = 170

5 weeks in to Victoria’s amazingly effective snap lockdown.

7 day average cases = 250.

I’m wondering when exactly you define an outbreak as “out of control”? Or does it change depending on which party is in government?

Rosalind Turner’s assessment @10.41 am 26 Aug should be deployed whack-a-mole style whenever these sad but dangerous cases pop up, here and elsewhere.

End age-discrimination. Everyone should have access to the same vaccines.

The blame lies with Scott Morrison for caving in and refusing to ignore the rather gruesome and strident media campaign conducted earlier this year when Delta was ravaging India. You remember it. Endless sob stories about “Aussies” stranded overseas and people in certain sections of the media demanding “bring them home!”

Well Morrison did bring them home and look what’s happened! It would be too convenient to blame a limo driver in Sydney or a bouncer in Canberra but the fact remains that Delta was offshore and we had an opportunity to leave it offshore, out of Australia.

ScoMo caved in to the media and missed that opportunity. He will be judged on that failure at the next election.

Leaving it offshore as you put it would have been delaying the inevitable.

And in fact that is what did happen. They did ban people coming from India for a while, then restarted it. And whether you think it is an excuse of not there is no argument delta arrived via the US on a freight pilot. So even if we had of close the borders the freight pilot would have still arrived.

And sure limo driver should have had more protection but again if it wasn’t him it would have been someone else another time.

I’m no expert in international law, but I think the point of being an Australian citizen is that you have the right to be in Australia, or at least you did until 2020.

By the time Delta was a threat, we had known about covid19 for almost a year. If the government wanted to build secure quarantine facilities, they had ample time to do so. The little ACT managed to build a covid hospital in 36 days, I’m sure the commonwealth government could have made a quarantine facility if they really wanted to. Or they could have listened to public pressure (you can call it “caving” if you want) and used the big offshore facility that the taxpayers have already paid for on Christmas Island.

But no, they gave the quarantine contract to their donors in the hotel industry, and refused calls for dedicated facilities even after multiple, well-publicised escapes of the virus from hotels. Only now is there talk of building proper quarantine (and no talk of using those offshore facilities that have already been built at huge cost)

States run by governments of both political sides have demonstrated how hard it is to get quarantining of new arrivals to be 100% successful. One slip up can be disastrous.

And we are now living with the results of those failures. Australians are dying, families being destroyed because we let COVID back.

While there have been mistakes made Federally and by most states, in my opinion, the biggest, most stupid one was to allow people to enter the country before we had the vaccination rates high enough.

The Federal government should not have allowed this.

However, if Labor were in power they would also have let people back, and if the Greens were influential they would have let even more in, so I think regardless of which flavour federal government we had, they were going to bow down to the pressure groups (whether they be big business, or the bleeding hearts) .

Yes, nicely written, but in matters of public health we can’t be too accommodating with both-sides-ism, itself a bias, well-meaning or otherwise, even if it does upset people’s feelings …

or political prejudices for that matter – we’ve seen what has happened in the US where the public health response has been cynically politicised by the right (whose leadership and media enablers have chosen the protection of science for themselves personally), tapping into a long connection between anti vaxxers and the white supremacy movement.

There’s an irony or two in this latest news from the Land of the otherwise Free –

“Delta Air Lines is raising health care costs for employees who insist on staying unvaccinated.”


That Delta news is interesting. Though when viewed through the eyes of the US health system it makes perfect sense. In the US business like Delta pay for healthcare insurance for their employees. So makes sense that if someone chooses not to be vaccinated then the healthcare risk rises. So in some ways this is just passing the cost of those employees decision back into those employees. .

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