opinion

OPINION: "Judging by this weekend, it looks like Australia is quitting while we're ahead."

Over the weekend, Australians buoyed by the good news of the past few weeks of ‘crushing the curve,’ started to nudge the rules just that little bit more than in recent weeks.

They tentatively sat for picnics in the park, had a sneaky sun-bake on the beach, chatted with friends a little bit closer and longer at local cafes as they picked up a morning coffee, and flocked in the hundreds to some of the country’s re-opened beaches.

As social restrictions have loosened ever so slightly in some states and territories, some appear to have taken that as a sign it’s all of a sudden “safe.” Choosing to push the rules further and risk a fine for a taste of normality.

WATCH: The Prime Minister cried last week over the strict nature of the current measures. Post continues after video.

Video by Sky

But, for a moment, consider those still fresh in the grief of burying loved ones with just 10 people gathered.

Consider those having a quiet toast to the vows they were supposed to be sharing at their wedding on Saturday.

Consider parents at their wits end, trying to entertain toddlers and tweens within the confines of their home.

And consider doctors who are leaving exhausting hospital shifts caring for sick COVID-19 patients only to walk outside and see families sitting on outdoor tables licking ice-creams in the sun. It can feel like a huge slap in the face.

Australians Commemorate Anzac Day Differently Due To Coronavirus Lockdown
Coogee beach at dawn on Saturday was full of people trying to exercise in the permitted hours of 6am-9am. Image: Brook Mitchell/Getty.
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This is not over.

In fact, we are entering the most crucial phase.

As they say in sport, we cannot take our eyes off the ball right now. Yes, we might be winning, but the game is definitely not won and our opponent is waiting for an opportunity to overtake us.

On Sunday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton warned Australians not to be complacent in trying to contain the virus, conceding that there is a level of frustration among people who want to get out and enjoy the good weather before winter starts.

"We need to be careful here," he told Sky. "We have seen what has happened in Singapore and other jurisdictions at the moment where the second wave has taken place."

After earlier in the year being heralded as the 'gold standard' of COVID-19 management, Singapore now has the highest coronavirus cases in south-east Asia. 

Of course it's exciting that Australia is doing so well. We're allowed to celebrate and quietly fist-pump, and chat optimistically with our families about entering the real world.

Australia's flattening
Australia's curve is well on the way to being flattened. Image: Mamamia.
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While countries like Italy, America and the UK buckle under the weight of tens of thousands of deaths, Australia hasn't even cracked triple digits, and we're down to recording single digit new cases day-by-day.

But experts are getting nervous that excitement is somehow morphing into over-confidence amongst a cabin-fevered nation - fed up and fatigued with staying indoors while our cases are so low.

Mobility data from Apple shows that there is an increasing number of people searching for directions by road, foot, and public transport and calls of "see we over-reacted" are starting to become louder. But it's way too soon to be complacent.

"We don't have a vaccine. There is no treatment or cure," Bill Bowtell, architect of Australia's response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, told the ABC.

Just look at Tasmania.

In the third week of March the island appeared to have one of the strongest responses in the country. But after an outbreak at two hospitals in the north-west, COVID-19 cases quickly ballooned and now 10 of the state's 11 deaths can be linked to the area.

"We can see how very quickly, despite all the precautions and the best efforts of healthcare workers and the Tasmanian government, things can change very quickly," said Bowtell.

Our country's Chief Medical Officer says Australia is facing a permanent risk of a second wave of infections, and while our Prime Minister says we are "on the road back to some type of normal" he is adamant that we stick to the social distancing measures until they are officially lifted.

coronavirus tracing app australia
One of the chief medical officer's biggest concerns is the growing complacency amongst Australians. Image: Lukas Coch - Pool/Getty.
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"Let's not get complacent while our numbers are good," Scott Morrison told reporters late last week.

By the end of this week, Queenslanders will be allowed to have family picnics and weekend drives. In WA locals are now allowed to hike, camp and have gatherings of 10 people. In the Northern Territory, parks and reserves are set to reopen.

Unfortunately for others, including residents in NSW, Tasmania and Victoria, the restrictions remain the same.

Yes, social distancing is boring and tedious, and it's torturous watching other states be allowed to do things that we are desperate to enjoy. But we need to remind ourselves - we're in the midst of a global health pandemic. Our states are making decisions based on the numbers of cases and the levels of community transmission in their areas.

"We know we're doing well, but don't let it lull you into a false sense of security," said NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard over the weekend.

The current COVID-19 figures.

"Every single community transmission that’s undetected can infect a lot of people, and that’s why it is so important that we do maintain measures for the time being," added Professor Brendan Murphy, while chatting to ABC radio.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has cautioned it's "very dangerous" for governments to relax restrictions without the approval of public health experts.

The government's new app COVIDSafe which was made available for download last night, is hoping to quicken up the process of allowing Australians to re-enter the world. But in the meantime, we cannot be taking another state's rules into communities that are yet to reach that level of relaxation.

Bending the rules for a taste of normality for you and yours - is a slap in the face to those trying to do the right thing.

One day soon, they too would love to enjoy a picnic in the sun.

Feature image: Getty.

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