Canberra’s not immune to enemy of complacency

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“Crowded pubs, close lines of people, casual attitudes in shops and recreation areas are all testament to complacent attitudes to the pandemic; the very things that will bring COVID-19 back to Canberra,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.

COMPLACENCY is enemy number one as Victoria’s second wave of COVID-19 demonstrates. Canberra is not immune. We may all be looking forward to getting life back to normal but we are running a high risk of the same thing happening in our city.

Michael Moore.

The coronavirus epidemic has provided many lessons that are applicable across society. The most socially disadvantaged in our country, and across the world, have been most vulnerable to the pandemic. Across the health spectrum, it is the same people who suffer most, who have more ill-health and have the shortest lives.

Social distancing is more challenging for those living in close quarters, as is illustrated by the pictures of the public-housing towers that were locked down in Melbourne. What chance of sensible social distancing when using crowded lifts or when the corridors allow less than one point five metres to pass neighbours?

In a fair and equitable society, it would be reasonable to expect access to good health and good health care as a human right. If it was the case, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and refugees would have the same health outcomes as other Australians. Instead, the gap is significant.

Closing the Gap in a Generation” is a World Health Organization report on the social determinants of health. More than a decade ago this report pointed to the impact of inequality on health and urged governments to develop more equitable policies in order to improve health outcomes. The UN took the next steps with the introduction of the “Sustainable Development Goals“, which have been adopted by 293 countries.

Complacency regarding the current pandemic may well be driven by the hope of a new vaccine. Such a vaccine would provide a new dawn. However, it would not be without its critics. No doubt, the anti-vax movement will find a series of conspiracy theories to encourage people to avoid the vaccine. A bigger problem will be that many people will not get around to having the vaccine. Complacency!

As much as we hope for the development of a safe and efficacious vaccine emerging from more than a hundred international projects, it might be a forlorn hope. How many decades is it since the advent of HIV/AIDS? There are treatments. However, despite the years of efforts, there is still no vaccine to halt the spread of this disease. There is a lesson in knowing that preventive behaviours had the biggest impact on HIV.

Compared to other policy areas, Australian governments have not been complacent on COVID-19. Rather, they have been vigilant in listening to advice, taking action, vigilant in contact tracing and vigilant in testing. These are key elements of handling a pandemic that is already on our shores. 

The same cannot be said for some in the community. Crowded pubs, close lines of people, casual attitudes in shops and recreation areas are all testament to complacent attitudes to the pandemic. This same complacency is the very thing that will bring COVID-19 back to Canberra. It really is something that we should all be taking seriously.

Even with the Victorian experience, there are still many individuals who are complacent about social distancing, hygiene and protection for themselves and others. In comparison, governments have been vigilant on COVID-19. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for other areas of government policy where complacency is rife.

In the case of the pandemic, governments have been vocal about supporting and listening to the evidence provided by academics and public health professionals. One perspective is that they are avoiding the risk of blame for community deprivations such as “lockdowns” by stating they are following medical advice and evidence. 

Why is the same attitude not applicable to policies on climate change, indigenous health or taxpayers’ subsidies to the fossil-fuel industry? After all, there is plenty of solid, high-quality evidence and advice for them to use, to quote – or perhaps to hide behind!

 

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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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