opinion

'Australia was ready to try to live with the virus. I just assumed our government had a plan.'

After months of staying at home. 

After months of waiting for our vaccine.

After years of cancelled and rescheduled plans, lost income and shattered dreams, we were ready to try a different approach.

Most of us were ready to 'live' with the virus.

Our government hasn't had the best track record when it comes to handling the roadblocks this virus has presented us with. But two years in, I know I at least naively thought they'd learnt their lesson. 

That 2022 would be different. 

Watch: The biggest policy failure of the pandemic so far...Post continues after video.


Video via Seven.

That there'd be proper forward thinking, based on scientific and medical modelling and the experiences of our overseas neighbours, who we've learnt experience the same COVID-19 hiccups just months ahead of us and often on a bigger scale.

And yet even with this literal crystal ball at their disposal, our government keeps showing us they're woefully under-prepared. 

Of course it's worth acknowledging that a pandemic by its very description is unpredictable. But our public health experts, epidemiologists and researchers have been pretty on the money when it comes to predictions. 

The truth is, we didn't buy enough vaccines.

We didn't lockdown early enough while our populations were still largely unvaccinated.

We didn't build designated quarantine facilities. 

We didn't have unity. And most of the time the man who was supposed to steer the ship kept reverting back to his favourite phrase, "that's a matter for the states."

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For a country desperate for leadership as we rode the waves of disappointment, uncertainty, fear and grief, there have been more than a few moments of collective frustration that our government just didn't have its sh*t together. 

Now as we enter 2022 nothing appears to have changed.

Our PCR testing clinics weren't readied to deal with an influx of cases. Instead of expanding capacity, definitions narrowed. But as Raina MacIntyre, a member of the WHO COVID-19 Vaccine Composition Technical Advisory group told The Conversation, that resulted in the toppling of two pillars of epidemic control: test and trace. 

"Modelling for the national plan assumed these would be still standing. Without these, it will get much worse," she explained.

Instead, we turned to rapid antigen tests. But turns out we didn't buy enough of those. Apparently Scott Morrison was warned in September that he'd need them, but that plea from the Australian Medical Association went unanswered. 

Most Australians have to pay for them too, even though they are now playing a government-mandated role in our current strategy for the sick or isolating. Even though countries like the UK and America offer them everywhere, for free. 

READ: Let's be clear, our government could pay for rapid antigen tests. They are choosing not to.

Our hospitals are understaffed and are screaming at us that they can't handle the growing wave of cases. All while both state and federal leaders outwardly tell us that the systems "remain strong."

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Our booster program is not where it should be. It's running 1.6 million people behind according to the Financial Review. But according to the Australian Medical Association, we're already falling behind demand when it comes to supply, anyway. 

Our supermarket shelves are empty again. This time it's not because of hoarding, it's a supply issue. A supply issue one would have thought the government would prepare for in their "let it rip" scenario. 

Now we're looking down the barrel of more restrictions, more home-schooling, more cancelled plans and more staying at home because the virus is spreading faster than predicted and we don't have the plans at the ready to pivot properly in this new 'living with the virus' normal. 

As journalist Narelda Jacobs wrote on Instagram after falling ill with COVID, "For two years we’ve been told 'we’re in this together', now 'we’re riding the wave'. The PM and NSW Premier may as well be telling us 'you’re on your own'. Covid is now out of control. Australia has lost the upper hand we all sacrificed so much for and the government’s solution is to simply stop counting and let it rip."

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As Jacobs points out, Morrison appears to be responding to the whole scenario by telling us to "look over there" at the unvaccinated tennis player currently dominating the news cycle.

The Morrison government pushed Australia to reopen, and we were ready to try that. 

But as the binfire that has erupted as a result gains momentum, as entire families fall ill, businesses are crippled by sick or isolating staff and hospitals are left at the end of their tether, it's becoming more and more obvious that there's no plan to catch us on either a state or federal level.

As Professor MacIntyre reiterates, "There has been inadequate surge planning at all levels of government, leaving us sitting ducks with low third-dose vaccine coverage."

I naively assumed, after two years of failures and lessons, our governments - particularly our federal government - would have a plan. 

But it feels like this time, we're truly on our own.

You can keep up to date with Gemma Bath's articles here, or follow her on Instagram,  @gembath.

Feature image: Mamamia/Jenny Evans/Getty.

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