October 11, 2021
Opinion by Greg Ray
So the lockdowns are lifting. The shops and businesses are reopening. People are flocking back to their crowded, busy lives.
Mr Murdoch, Mr Morrison and Mr Perrottet are very happy that dollars will be flowing more freely again, and no doubt many other people are glad for the same reason.
But we already know, from overseas experience, what is likely to happen next, so we need to be careful not to be too carried away by the “Freedom Day” headlines. Masks and social distancing are still going to be good ideas for the reasonably foreseeable future. Here’s why:
- Experience from overseas tells us that opening up even when vaccination levels reach respectable targets will bring a surge in new infections – probably a quite large surge. When people get together in big groups, especially indoors, airborne respiratory viruses like Covid-19 spread readily. The Delta variant of the virus, being even more infectious than the original strain, will generally expose every member of a household into which it comes to very high viral loads.
- We also know from overseas experience that a characteristic of these post-opening-up surges is that more of the hospitalisations, intensive care admissions and deaths that we will see will be people who have been fully vaccinated. This can feel alarming and depressing, but it doesn’t means the vaccines aren’t working. Sadly, the vaccines aren’t completely perfect. Their protection appears to fade over time, especially among the elderly. There are “breakthrough” infections in fully vaccinated people. And even though these are relatively rare, the facts that the virus is spreading rapidly and that a great majority of people are vaccinated means a higher percentage of those seriously affected must necessarily be vaccinated. You can rest assured that if nobody was vaccinated, the situation would be much, much worse.
- Other readily transmissible illnesses – notably influenza – will likely make a comeback after having been subdued during the periods of lockdown. As the wild-eyed Covid deniers have often pointed out, influenza often kills quite large numbers of people during its annual seasons, but with people staying at home, wearing masks and keeping their distance from each other, its impacts have been muted of late. We can expect that to change as people begin to crowd together again.
- Hospitals will be under stress, so it won’t be a good time to need hospital care. Australia’s governments have, over the years, ground the nation’s public hospitals to the bone and beyond – especially outside the capital cities. The same with ambulance services, which are in a terrible state. Ramp up Covid and flu infections, take a chunk of staff out of the equation due to burnout or periods of isolation after exposure to infected people and see what results. Hint: it’s not great.
- Being vaccinated doesn’t mean you can’t carry and transmit the virus. Very important point. You might not feel any symptoms, but you may still pass the infection to others.
All of this means that we should, by all means, enjoy our freedom. But if we are sensible we will not drop our guards too far. Lots of people surely will, and they are the ones who will be spreading the infection in a big way. And while it is true that we must learn to live with this virus, we also can’t forget the entire reason why we started this pandemic journey with the goal of “flattening the curve”. The thinking was that we would all, sooner or later most likely, have to experience Covid infection directly. It would be better for us and for everybody else if the numbers of those inevitably infected were kept at levels that our poor abused hospital and ambulance systems could cope with. If not, then people would die unnecessarily, and not just from Covid. It was true then, and it’s true now.
We can probably expect, in the months between now and New Year, that our politicians and mainstream media outlets will strive to take the emphasis off the numbers of infected people. They will argue (and not entirely without logic) that other measures will be more important. Hospitalisations, intensive care admissions and deaths are what will matter most. But it will be a very sensitive political topic, so also expect some fudging of figures, blurring of categories and the usual deceptive media propaganda, especially from the Murdoch empire which will be in a frenzy to make sure nobody blames its favoured leaders for any negative consequences of the “let-it-rip” policies it has been urging from almost day one.