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Canberra Today 2°/5° | Sunday, May 22, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Just how many covid deaths are acceptable?

Cartoon: Paul Dorin

“All the states and territories are caught up in the rush to lift restrictions while hardly recognising the overwhelming driver for Morrison is winning an election rather than seeking the best interest of the community as a whole,” writes political columnist MICHAEL MOORE.

THE covid policy pendulum has swung too far. In the early days of the pandemic the goal was to reduce deaths and to ensure hospitals were not overwhelmed. Just how many deaths are acceptable?

Our governments now seem content with the often repeated “learning to live with covid” ideas of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet. This also means living with an increase in covid-related deaths.

Governments have been lifting public health restrictions originally designed to protect our health, ensure our hospital systems were not overloaded and to prevent deaths. 

Strident restrictions had served their purpose with city and statewide lockdowns becoming too burdensome to continue. However, less aggressive restrictions that were protecting our populations have also been lifted.

What the federal government says and what the prime minister does are two different things! His government has published its “whole-of-government response” to the pandemic, which includes minimising “the number of people becoming infected or sick with COVID-19” and “minimise how sick people become and the mortality rate” as well as “manage the demand on our health systems”.

Morrison’s “learning-to-live-with-covid” approach seeks to lift restrictions as quickly as possible. All of the states and territories are caught up in the rush while hardly recognising the overwhelming driver for Morrison is what’s in the best interest of his party. This means winning an election rather than seeking the best interest of the community as a whole.

At the time of writing the ACT had more than a thousand recorded new cases in a day. These figures will understate the amount of virus in the community as current records now include self-reporting of rapid antigen  tests. There were 70 people in hospital with COVID-19 and four of them were in the intensive care unit (ICU). We continue to hear of regular deaths from COVID-19.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, close to a quarter of all Canberrans have been infected. The plus side is the extraordinary level of vaccination uptake with over 97 per cent of all Canberrans over the age of five having had at least two doses. This will be playing a large part in protecting our hospitals, and particularly the ICU, from surges.

Across Australia there is a similar story. Around a quarter of the population have been infected, with more than six million recorded cases and more than 7000 deaths. Currently there are more than 300,000 active cases. Despite these numbers, there is an overwhelming desire to “get back to normal”. 

What is normal? One of the least invasive impositions is the wearing of masks in public places. However, for many, masks have almost become a political symbol of government overreach and interference in freedoms.

Mandating masks in certain circumstances is hardly an overreach. Granted, when people are happy with us, we do have to take in smiling eyes instead of relying on the much more obvious broad grin. We need to burden pockets and purses with masks. However, these are a small price to pay and ought to remain mandated in very public places such as supermarkets, pubs, clubs and other nightlife venues where strangers gather.

A major concern about the Morrison concept of “learning to live with covid” is the increasing opportunity for new variants. As the numbers of infections increase, the likelihood of another variant continues to proliferate. Luckily, Omicron turned out to be much more infectious but with less severe illness resulting in a lower percentage of deaths. It might not be the same in the future.

It is much more difficult to check for new variants with a strong swing away from PCR testing to rapid antigen testing. Waste water testing can compensate to a certain extent and it certainly can provide an indication of any surge in a new variant. So far we have been lucky that the new variants did not cause even greater numbers and more serious sickness and deaths. 

Our community once thought it was a serious problem to have people dying of COVID-19. The situation appears to have changed. It is sad that the political challenge now seems to be determining what is the acceptable number of deaths to maintain “freedom from masks” and other minimal impositions.

Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006. There is more of Michael Moore on citynews.com.au

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Michael Moore

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