Extreme times demand extreme measures but it is not clear Australians, or at least a huge number of us, appreciate the threat being posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister consoled himself that “Australians being Australians” would be up to the challenge. What Scott Morrison didn’t quite appreciate is that Australians being Australians means heading off to one of the world’s best beaches when the temperature hits the high 20s and the sun is shining. “She’ll be right mate” almost certainly sums up the national ethos.
The lack of seriousness could also be explained by confusing messages from our leaders. If it is OK for professional footballers to play contact sport, more especially Rugby League though Australian Football is not far behind when it comes to tackling, then it must be safe enough to head off to Manuka or Kingston for breakfast in the cafes and restaurants as many did last weekend.
All the while, of course, the number of Australians testing positive for coronavirus is rising exponentially. It has been doubling every three days; at this rate, which is accelerating, we will reach 1.25 million infected Australians by Anzac Day. The Prime Minister takes comfort from the fact that Australia’s testing has one of the lowest “test positivity” in the world, as he said on Sunday. But this doesn’t impress medical professionals. The ABC’s resident medical expert Dr Norman Swan says “if you don’t look, you don’t find”. While Australia’s testing rate at 480 per 100,000 is one of the highest in the world, it is behind the jurisdictions that have recorded the best results in containing the spread; South Korea, for example, tests 540 per 100,000.
The ACT, like the Australian states, has very restrictive criteria for coronavirus testing. This no doubt is due to the fact Australia was slow to move in having sufficient test kits in place by the time the virus began to hit our shores. In this battle, time is of the essence and getting really serious is more urgent than we realised or were prepared to admit a month ago.
Thankfully the AFL has come to its senses and after Queensland closed its borders on Monday, so too has a very reluctant NRL. Both codes have now suspended their seasons.
Also the ACT Government in following Victoria’s lead on school closures and the painful shutting down of bars, clubs, restaurants cinemas and places of worship, is finally showing leadership. The Barr Government was more decisive in its messaging on this than the NSW Government with its confusing advice on schools.
But if we really want to know what serious looks like we should follow Hong Kong’s example of not isolating mild coronavirus patients in their family homes but rather in quarantine facilities. Infectious diseases expert, Professor Ben Cowling, told ABC TV that by keeping the infected away from their families, Hong Kong prevented transmission that would otherwise have occurred in the community.