Winter is here and Covid is back – Melburnians have heard this script before | Calla Wahlquist

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Winter is here and Covid is back. Six new cases in Melbourne on Wednesday, 15 so far this week.

You could be forgiven for thinking we had fallen into a timeslip and been spat out somewhere around June 2020.

We have growing case numbers in the northern suburbs, an exposure site at the MCG and one of Melbourne’s biggest shopping centres, and people spreading the virus to their coworkers.

The acting premier on television, telling a press conference of shouting reporters that “the next 24 hours are critical” to determine if further restrictions are necessary.

Melburnians have heard this script before. We should be furious about hearing it again.

We now know what it is like when the outbreak gets out of control: 112 days of lockdown and almost 800 lives lost in Melbourne alone last year.

And we now have access to vaccines – available for free, with no appointment, to anyone over the age of 50, with a relevant medical condition, or who works in a high-risk industry.

It is infuriating that it was only on Wednesday, with the threat of further restrictions looming, that long queues began to form at Melbourne’s mass vaccination hubs.

We pinned all our hopes on getting at least one vaccine that was safe and effective and, in a miracle of science, we got several. Imagine going back to the version of you still living in the depths of Melbourne’s hard lockdown and telling them that the problem with the vaccine rollout would be that there was too much choice. Enough that people wanted to hold out for a specific vaccine, when another was available.

That the problem with ensuring a strong public health response to Covid-19 was not that the health systems were overwhelmed, but that we had become complacent.

Part of that makes sense. You can’t maintain a sense of hypervigilance for 14 months. It is exhausting, for one. It’s also, well, boring. The pandemic is boring. News about the pandemic is boring. We all switch off when the case numbers are low then come roaring back whenever there’s an outbreak.

But it is more than just Covid fatigue. There was a pervasive sense, before this week, that things were back to normal. The urgency had fallen out of both public and government responses to the pandemic.

The security of feeling that life has returned to normal is a privilege that not everybody shares.

Some 40,000 Australians have at some point during the pandemic been trapped overseas, and many have not yet been able to return. Thousands more, living in Australia, are wondering when they will ever see their families again.

The events industry hasn’t recovered. Cafes in Melbourne’s CBD are permanently shuttered. The tourism sector is still struggling.

People living in disability residential care homes are still not able to receive family visits – and until the woeful rollout of vaccinations in residential care homes was exposed at the disability royal commission last week, just 999 people out of 26,000 had received their first shot. After this figure was publicly condemned, the number of people in residential care to receive their first shot has risen to 5,855.

The slow rollout of the vaccine among highly vulnerable cohorts is inexcusable.

More understandable is the slow uptake of vaccines in the general public. Some people, who for medical reasons have been recommended to take the Pfizer shot, have been trying for weeks, particularly in regional areas, to get access to a vaccine but have been unsuccessful.

I even understand, although I do not agree with, hesitation among those who have access to a vaccine but harbour concerns around the safety of AstraZeneca.

When the federal government calls a late-night press conference to warn of an infinitesimally small risk of blood clots among people who take the AstraZeneca vaccine, it is going to cause some vaccine hesitancy. And when they repeatedly say there is no need to rush the rollout in Australia as an excuse for continually pushing back their own vaccine targets, it is going to create complacency.

That sense of complacency, at least in Melbourne, should now be shattered.

Hafta Ichi
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Winter is here and Covid is back – Melburnians have heard this script before | Calla Wahlquist

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