26 July 2021

'We're all in this together'... until you're not

| James Coleman
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Coles Wanniassa

An hour after the ACT announced masks would be mandatory from 28 June, toilet paper was nearly sold out. Photo: David Murtagh.

Everything we do in life is a risk. Right now, for me, the risk is that my mug of tea may spill and flood my laptop and I shall be very cross. But this is a risk I have decided is worth taking because I want to drink my tea and write this opinion piece.

Soon after the mask mandate was enacted in the ACT earlier this month, I came across a photo on Facebook of a Canberra man in a grocery store surrounded by a couple of police officers. Apparently, so the caption read, he was not wearing a face mask and was either being cautioned or fined for failing to comply with the rules.

Police are here to maintain law and order. That’s all good. The thing that I take issue with is that someone posted a picture of this guy to a public Facebook group for all to see and shame.

The comments rang with “Good” and “Stupid idiot”, along with other things that shouldn’t be typed anywhere. I left less perturbed by what the man in the photo was guilty of as I was by the mud everyone else was slinging at him.

Another post asked the question: “Would you dob someone in who didn’t use the Check In CBR app?” The comments were ripe with, “Oh heck yes” and “In a heartbeat”.

Check In CBR poster

The Check In CBR is now mandatory on public transport. Photo: David Murtagh.

I know Facebook is the famous meeting place of the world’s most agreeable people, but all the same, what happened to “we’re all in this together”? Now it has become a case of “everyone else can get stuffed”.

Politicians are pointing fingers at each other. Borders are going up and down like those hydraulic doors in Star Wars. And so what if some poor sod is in the way? Such as a pregnant Ballina woman who lost a twin when she couldn’t get to a hospital in Brisbane as childbirth wasn’t classified as a medical emergency.

Far less dire are the frequent examples of passengers being told mid-flight that they’d have to go straight into two weeks of hotel quarantine at their own expense. Elderly people are dying, their families are not able to be with them. Mental health issues, suicides, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence – the tragic numbers are all rising.

We’re not in this together at all. It’s tearing us apart.

Nurse preparing COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine

Nurse preparing COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine at Garran Surge Centre, ACT Health. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

COVID-19 has been an unknown enemy from the start.

The vaccine is perfectly safe, but no, hang on, young people shouldn’t take the AstraZeneca jab. The Delta variant is deadly, but its typical symptoms are shared with the common cold.

READ ALSO ACT woman one of seven new blood clots likely linked to AstraZeneca vaccine

The place is swirling with facts; none of them seem to add up, though. So each of us takes a side.

Bringing in the science hasn’t cleared the confusion.

Think back to when the World Health Organisation (WHO) tweeted, “if you do not have any symptoms, you do not have to wear a mask, because there is no evidence that they protect people who are not sick”. But then we had mask mandates. Did the science change or the politics?

The deaths, the uncertainty, it has us cowering in fear, begging our government to just shut us out from all of it. And they’re dutifully obliging.

When I was younger and in bed with a tummy bug, sipping water and nibbling crackers, my brother would come in every so often with a bottle of disinfectant and proceed to soak the place until it was literally dripping. He’d then leave, shutting the door behind him.

This is exactly what governments are doing, but not just to the sick. We’re all being locked down and squirted in the eyes with Pine O Cleen – sick, healthy, vaccinated, and non-vaccinated alike.

The alternative ‘Freedom Day’ approach looks to be incredibly cruel to the less able-bodied among us. And it is very tricky ethical business to weigh two evils in the hope of finding the lesser. But look around. It isn’t a matter of economy or lives. The economy is lives and they’re being ruined.

So here’s what’s should happen. We’re going to secure enough vaccines to go around and then this is going to end. And I mean end. No ‘new normal’; there will be normal normal.

Risky? Yes, but here’s a thought. We’re adults. We elected these governments, so surely we can summon the mind power to decide for ourselves whether or not it’s safe to go to the shops or visit Nan.

COVID-19 is here to stay. We have to live with it. But more importantly, something that will outlast any pandemic – we have to live with each other.

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No one person should be thrown under a bus so that another can have their holidays. Stay home, shut up and look at all aussies as being important. Forget about Joycies special travel passport as it’s not happening anytime soon.

Oh dear – spilling tea and being nursed through a tummy bug, lovey sheltered life – similar arguments being spun by people missing their overseas jaunts – so inconvenient for you.
The ability to defer enjoyment or a reward is a useful attribute particularly when it is not that difficult to achieve for most Canberrans.
The faster we get out of lockdowns the better – the people who choose not to vaccinate are still going to expect health care paid for by the tax payer and cleaned up by the casualised workers on low wages.

CaptainSpiff12:15 pm 29 Jul 21

One of the most sensible pieces I’ve read in a long time. Covid is serious business, but our response as a society has been abominably stupid and massively unfair.

There appears to be only one realistic option at this point. Once everyone that wants to be vaccinated has been vaccinated, we declare an end to this, move on, and let people figure out for themselves how they want to live. Enough is enough.

The question is whether stopping most people getting a mild sniffle and preventing a few people dying from a flu type illness justifies a suspension of civil liberties, border closures, lockdowns, education, disruptions, fines and arrests, mandatory masks, delayed elections, travel bans, panic buying, mutual suspicion and hostility, national paranoia, isolation and depression, funeral, wedding, family gathering and holiday bans, business failures, mass job loses, budget blow-outs, police crackdowns on protests…..

All well and good except it is not a flu like illness. Some of the symptoms are flu like for sure but COVID is without doubt a lot more serious and the illness does a lot more damage than the flu.

I know 4 people who have had it and two of them are still not 100% one year later. I’m sure the flu doesn’t have lingering issues like that.

And I am also sure the death rate relative to infection rates is a lot higher than the flu too. Flu death rate is roughly 16 in 100,000, COVID 3400 in 100,000.

The only reason the death rate in Australia is so low is because of the suppression measures you seem to object to have kept the infection rates down.

But sure go on considering it is just the flu.

In Australia, 705 influenza-associated deaths Jan to Sept 2019.
745 flu deaths reported in 2017.
Combined 2020 + 2021 total Australian COVID deaths = 921 (Source: health.gov.au)
5 TTS deaths from Covid vaccine (Source TGA)
By these stats Flu is worse than Covid.
But economically and socially the cost of measures to counter Covid are far worse than the impact of Covid and Flu. Sure, you can argue these measures have stopped or delayed COVID, but such draconian measures cannot be permanently applied. They are not sustainable or desirable. We did not elect health officials to run our government Which gets back to the question I posed above. It is all about risk management.

Absolute figures are pointless for the reason I stated above which is COVID deaths in Australia are low because of the measures they have been out in place to reduce infection rates.

The important figures are death rate per 100,000 infections. Covid is 212 times more deadly than the flu.

Now sure go ahead and argue the relative cost, both fiscal and emotional of lockdowns etc bit do not state COVID is anything like the flu and expect to be taken seriously.

An actual link to a study to compare Flu and Covid:

89?530 patients with COVID-19 and 45?819 patients with influenza were hospitalised in France during the respective study periods. The median age of patients was 68 years (IQR 52–82) for COVID-19 and 71 years (34–84) for influenza. Patients with COVID-19 were more frequently obese or overweight, and more frequently had diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidaemia than patients with influenza, whereas those with influenza more frequently had heart failure, chronic respiratory disease, cirrhosis, and deficiency anaemia. Patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 more frequently developed acute respiratory failure, pulmonary embolism, septic shock, or haemorrhagic stroke than patients with influenza, but less frequently developed myocardial infarction or atrial fibrillation. In-hospital mortality was higher in patients with COVID-19 than in patients with influenza (15?104 [16·9%] of 89?530 vs 2640 [5·8%] of 45?819), with a relative risk of death of 2·9 (95% CI 2·8–3·0) and an age-standardised mortality ratio of 2·82. Of the patients hospitalised, the proportion of paediatric patients (<18 years) was smaller for COVID-19 than for influenza (1227 [1·4%] vs 8942 [19·5%]), but a larger proportion of patients younger than 5 years needed intensive care support for COVID-19 than for influenza (14 [2·3%] of 613 vs 65 [0·9%] of 6973). In adolescents (11–17 years), the in-hospital mortality was ten-times higher for COVID-19 than for influenza (five [1·1% of 458 vs one [0·1%] of 804), and patients with COVID-19 were more frequently obese or overweight."


How about you do one for India? No, I doubt you will because it won’t support your typical uneducated ‘Just a sniffle’ statement.

I’ll eagerly await your post on Seasonal Influenza mortality and hospitalisation rate within India during the 2016/2017 season. Contrasted with 2020/2021 covid mortality and hospitalisation rate.

We don’t have political officials making decisions without getting advice from people who are educated and experienced in the matter. Politicians are not medical professionals nor are people who barely made it out of highschool decades ago even remotely qualified to have an opinion on the matter.

You want to ‘live with the virus’, there’s plenty of countries that have done so and paid dearly for it. You’re free to attempt to get to these bastions of freedom and show us all just what a ‘sniffle’ it is.

There was an article on the news recently (I’ll try and find it if people want) where the COVID death rates per million people of the US and UK were applied to Australia’s population.

Iirc it came out to about 48,000 deaths.

So it appears that our response though costly, has saved a lot of lives, possibly around 47,000.

I was wondering where all this “we’re all in this together” stuff came from, especially that rather tedious and repetitive jingle we’ve heard over and over.

I’ve done some research into this jingle and apparently it was a song released by cricketer Brett Lee in 2006. I don’t have an interest in current pop music, I happen to think that there were no decent songs released after 1995. But I think that repeating a bit of a pop song over and over by the media to try and engender a sense of faux togetherness and solidarity was a bit off right from the start.

rationalobserver9:04 am 28 Jul 21

Actually, the data shows that the only domestic violence related increase we have seen was the noise from DV advocacy groups running around yelling “the sky is falling” and officials looking for sacrosanct justifications for their over zealous actions.
We were never all in this together from the moment the states broke solidarity at National Cabinet and the whole thing was politicised. From there it degenerated into a neo-colonial race to the bottom. I’m surprised more has not been made of this. The mood is ripe to abolish the states given their behaviour of late, yet this gets no media.

A half decent federal government would have got on the front foot, not been 15 steps behind like the current mob are. Blame goes both ways – and the way National Cabinet operates is an absolute joke anyway.

HiddenDragon6:10 pm 27 Jul 21

The re-purposing of the “we’re all in this together” slogan for this pandemic is a perfect illustration of the saying that “if you’re going to tell a lie, tell a big one”. The sacrifices to date (and there’s much more to come) have been so unfair and so unequal.

If we really were all in this together, we wouldn’t be telling people whose businesses and jobs are shut down or severely curtailed “not to stress” (in the syrupy words of the NSW Premier) as we toss them a few crumbs (if they can jump through the necessary hoops). We would look after them much better, and much more quickly. Sadly, the ability to fund this at the federal level is badly curtailed now that Labor has caved-in on negative gearing, capital gains tax, and high income tax cuts.

Bernard Miller3:32 pm 27 Jul 21

At last a report that is well thought out, balanced and logical. It was a very pleasant read for a change, such a difference from the majority of mind boggling nonsene.

“ We’re adults. We elected these governments, so surely we can summon the mind power to decide for ourselves whether or not it’s safe to go to the shops or visit Nan.”

You would think so, but evidence proves you wrong again and again.

We have outbreaks, lockdowns and deaths because there are people in this country who are too stupid or too arrogant or too selfish to obey the rules and act in the common good.

Oh so true. The selfish actions of a few are greatly impacting the many. I am compromised, my husband is under going chemo. Too many people taking risks and assuming they will be okay. I’m worried about whether my husband will be okay.

As an example (assuming the media report is accurate), this headline popped up today:

“ Forty-five of the 50 people who attended an illegal funeral service in western Sydney have tested positive to Covid-19.”

What is wrong with those people!

Spiral, they selfishly put their customs, wants and needs ahead of everyone else. It looks like some of these people might be having their own funeral soon.

They really like funerals.

Shockingly when there are new circumstances and/or information in the scientific fields – Methods are adjusted based on that new information.

Science isn’t a poorly educated boomer that can’t contemplate changing an opinion based on new and additional information. Nothing is set in stone.

“The Delta variant is deadly, but its typical symptoms are shared with the common cold.” Yes, because they’re having such a fun time in India that they decided to wrestle over oxygen bottles and hospital beds for funsies.

You make the statement of “live with the virus” so you need to state what an acceptable death toll that is acceptable to you personally that the citizenry should accept? A hard figure.

The comment on it tearing us apart is pertinent. COVID restrictions are all corrosive to a cohesive society; we cannot ignore their potential for casting long shadows on how we live.

There’s no end in sight. Our collective attitude is zero tolerance, which looks increasingly impossible and doesn’t gel with how most of us have lived our lives to date. Something has to give eventually; vaccines are the answer but I am not confident that reaching whatever threshold is set will see restrictions ease up without a positive and constructive mindset shift.

There are no easy solutions to this wicked problem. I don’t think there is a single decision maker in the country that is not unbearably stressed by the situation. ‘Acceptable deaths’ is indeed a hard figure, but death is the only certainty of life and we have to find a way to eventually breathe the life back into life again.

“You make the statement of “live with the virus” so you need to state what an acceptable death toll that is acceptable to you personally that the citizenry should accept? A hard figure”

This is just a meaningless point because the situation is far more complex than that.

If you think the author needs to provide a hard figure on what death toll they’re willing to accept then those who are calling for seemingly permanent lockdowns until the virus magically disappears need to say how many people they’re willing to sacrifice due to other causes because of their stance and provide the evidence that they’ve even considered the consequences of their decisions in other areas of life. How long they think the current situation should be maintained for.

Those who think this is an easy choice between a “good” and a “bad” decision clearly aren’t thinking too hard.

rationalobserver9:10 am 28 Jul 21

The Government (PM&C – statistical value of a life) has a number for that. Once the combined costs (economic, social and environmental) attributable to our Covid response exceed $184K per year of life lost, then it’s time to stop.
I wonder if anyone is doing this math inside Government?

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