Where is the leadership as we continue to lurch through the COVID-19 pandemic?

Anne Cahill Lambert 2 July 2021 12
Nurse Marisha Christian preparing COVID-19 vaccine at Calvary Hospital clinic

Registered nurse Marisha Christian prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the new Calvary Hospital vaccination centre. Photo: Supplied.

Nearly 18 months into the pandemic, I wonder who is in charge of anything to do with COVID-19.

Recently, some friends of mine had to race to the UK because their daughter became critically ill. She’s worked in London for many years and has no family there. The palaver for her parents to reach her would have put off most people, but they persisted because she was gravely ill.

Eventually – and happily – she recovered to the point where she was well enough to travel home.

Her parents developed a detailed plan to quarantine at home in Canberra. All three had been vaccinated, and it would mean the daughter could receive the close personal care she needed – her mother is a nurse – with no risk of cross-infection from other rooms in quarantine.

However, the NSW Government refused the request. It was also submitted to the ACT Government, but it didn’t consider the request given that NSW had declined the proposal.

So off to a ‘medi-hotel’ they went. During the second week, we discussed what they were looking forward to when they were released from quarantine.

A piece of toast was the answer.

I was surprised to find the kitchen at their apartment had been totally disabled, save for an electric kettle, so they couldn’t actually cook a piece of toast. This was justified by the authorities because of the risk of fire, apparently, despite these apartments usually being occupied by tourists who manage to get by without setting the place alight.

Yet various government ministers, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who have recently travelled overseas, were allowed to quarantine at home or at The Lodge. I presume their kitchens weren’t disabled.

Indeed, any federal minister who has travelled overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic has not been subject to the same quarantine requirements as the general public.

I’m struggling with the concept of equity and fairness here.

But here is where it becomes bizarre.

The ANU recently developed a proposal for consideration by the ACT Government that would enable it to bring back overseas students. The proposal included a hotel quarantine arrangement in one of their halls of residence. This proposal was knocked back on the basis that there were no individual kitchens in each room.

However, 30 or more officials who accompanied Prime Minister Morrison to the G7 summit in the UK recently were quarantined in the same hall of residence at ANU on their return.

So we have a rule for NSW, another for the ACT, and another for the feds.

The people who don’t suffer out of any of these inconsistencies are those making the rules or supervising their implementation.

I would suggest the public is starting to suffer from COVID-19 exhaustion™ because of many inconsistencies, including those I have just mentioned. Goodwill is heading out the door at an alarming rate.

In this past dramatic week, the ACT has been labelled an ‘orange zone’ by Victoria. Western Australia has described the ACT as a ‘low risk’ jurisdiction. We can’t even get consistency in the nomenclature, or indeed what these descriptors mean.

The vaccination rollout is just one more example of inconsistency. People in rural Australia are having a particularly tough time accessing the appropriate vaccine. The messaging has been an unmitigated muddle, capped off by a late-night announcement after National Cabinet that young people can ask for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Australia is a lot better off than many countries, particularly in terms of the COVID-19 death rate. The nation has been well served by its chief health officers (CHO).

But we’re going to need to rethink our strategy.

First, we need consistency and unity of purpose. We don’t need heavy handed decisions, especially in regions where COVID-19 hasn’t appeared for around a year. We need to re-engage healthcare consumers back at the health policy table.

They seem to have been thrown out with the bathwater when the pandemic hit – logically because decisions had to be made quickly and it takes time to properly engage consumers.

We know that health policy is better developed and implemented if consumers are genuinely engaged as partners. Consumers would be able to guide CHOs about messaging and how inconsistencies will impact their ability to direct the public appropriately.

As a nation, we are seeing jurisdictions acting inconsistently. We need to get back to being a country that has good health of all Australians as its focus.

We must stop having jurisdiction pitted against jurisdiction.

We must get back to responses being proportionate to risk.

Then we might avoid COVID-19 exhaustion™.

Anne Cahill Lambert AM has worked in the health system for more than 40 years. She is the former chair of the ACT Remuneration Tribunal.


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12 Responses to Where is the leadership as we continue to lurch through the COVID-19 pandemic?
carpediem carpediem 12:49 pm 07 Jul 21

Speaking of leadership… by 800am this morning NSW had announced an extension to its lockdown period. Its just gone 12.30pm and still no word from the Canberra gubmit on what Canberra is to do. Did they not have plan? Leadership please!

Oiledpengu Oiledpengu 12:23 pm 07 Jul 21

Who cares about leadership when even those most effected don’t care about the rules? Check out Sydney where people swarmed outside during the lockdown and now it’s extended a week. What a bunch of fools wrecking it for everyone. How can you fix Covid when these sort of people are among us?

    Dorfrom Dorfrom 2:10 pm 07 Jul 21

    Oh well, they keep doing it and by about the 5th or 6th week they’ll make the connection and stop swarming. Slow learners.

Robert Hawes Robert Hawes 6:34 am 05 Jul 21

Under the constitution, the Federal Government should be in charge of quarantine. They have failed the Australian people in this and many other ways.

Pam Perkins Pam Perkins 5:11 am 05 Jul 21

Interesting informative read does make you wonder why

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 5:09 am 05 Jul 21

Leadership? Scotty’s COVID un-plan comes a whole year after his own-goal against Pfizer. Stranded Australians are worse off. Travel Exemption rorts to continue. No real indication when Australians generally can travel. Feeble quarantine commitments. No real indication when we’ll get to (80% vaxx) herd immunity.

Scotty’s real COVID plan is in the Budget and IGR. At the behest of universities and the business donors (stuff the voters) net migration climbs to a whopping 200,000 (2023) and 235,000 thereafter.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:48 pm 04 Jul 21

Ahh, the politics of envy are alive and well.

Mathew Richards Mathew Richards 4:50 pm 04 Jul 21

You are answering your own questions. The States and Territories are doing their own thing irrespective of what the Federal Government recommends even after they have their joint meetings. The PM, under the constitution is powerless to pull them into line and do what is best for the country. Yes there are problems with attaining vaccines. Much of this is due to the supply train from overseas as we as yet do not have the ability to make it on shore. Hotel isolation is the responsibilty of the States as is the testing of people arriving in Australia and they have done an appalling job. The NSW Hire Car driver and the cruise ship are the perfect examples. The alternative is to ban anyone and everyone from returning to Austrtalia, that is what the Feds could do but can you imagine the outcry. What gets me, the Labor Party has not for the past 18 months provided any alternative as to what they would do, or would have done, just take cheap shots at Morrison and NSW, never against the Labor state leaders. Political point scoring BS at it's best.

    Martin Budden Martin Budden 5:16 pm 04 Jul 21

    Mathew Richards

    1. What the PM wants to do (stop all lockdowns) is NOT what is best for the country: it would result in a totally overwhelmed hospital system and tens of thousands of deaths, as we've seen in other countries without good lockdowns.

    2. Labor has been proposing alternatives for a very long time e.g. building out-of-city dedicated quarantine centres (similar to Howard Springs). These could have been up and running months ago.

    Mathew Richards Mathew Richards 5:26 pm 04 Jul 21

    Martin Budden Labor only suggested dedicated centres after Morrison started using Howard Springs. Lockdowns, again it comes back to the states being incompetive in controlling their own systems.

Ol L Ol L 4:45 pm 04 Jul 21

If they took the risk to travel overseas during the pandemic they would be well aware of what would happen on their return. Unless of course we need to treat them differently to everyone else?

James Smithurst James Smithurst 3:35 pm 04 Jul 21

So, you are: “…struggling with the concept of equity and fairness…”? Well, so am I. As usual, those in power have shown again that they are above us. The G7 summit did not require Scomo’s personal attendance, primarily because we’re not a member; and the “secret” trade deal could have been handled via teleconference and emails. In this day and age, citizens, the people who supposedly installed governments to make decisions on our behalf, politicians aren’t making them on our behalf. All we see are politicians running around in parliament like headless chooks, cheap political point-scoring…pfui. I don’t expect much from Scomo but when the camera pans to Albo, and he takes to deep breath to poo poo the PM, I just turn off. Everyone elected to parliament, even those that did not form government, are there to serve us, you and me. Instead, we get kindergarten science, kindergarten economics and kindergarten health. Inapt, corrupt and inefficient. If you are disappointed at how territory, state and federal jurisdictions have handled this pandemic, you are right to be so.

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