Australia is not properly prepared for the more deadly Covid variant

By Joe Montero 

The new Omicron variant of Vovid-19 is out now, and it has arrived in Australia. The first case has been detected in Sydney. Anyone who knew anything about Covid and had even a basic of understanding about how viruses are prone to mutate and become more infectious, knew that pandemic is far from over.

Meanwhile, there has been too much pretending that this is not the case. A proper national plan has still not come into existence. Such a plan would move from reacting to a new wave of infections to building the capacity, to be ahead of the game and prepared to meet a threat from the outset. The track record shows that delay and inadequate responses assists the spread of infection.

Medical experts are saying that Omicron is up to 500 percent more infectious than the previous strains. Alarmed governments have moved quickly to stop flights from countries where the infection has been detected. But it seems too late stop it. First known to have arisen in South Africa, Moicron has made its way through the southern part of the continent and spread to Europe. To date, the United Kingdom, Germany, and the Netherlands have recorded infections.

The Australian government has stopped flights connecting to the affected parts of Africa, although flights to Europe remain unaffected for now.

Omicron is unlikely to be stopped. Complacency has been leading to the weakening of precautionary measures. Part of this has been overreliance on vaccines. They are an important part of the arsenal to combat the threat. But immunisation of most of the population has been sold as the magic bullet, when we should know, the best hope is in a multifaceted approach.

The most important part is community unity in social distancing, wearing of masks, hygiene, and helping each other. A consequence of the rise of vaccine targets and mandating has been the weakening of these measures.  A big reason for this is the lack of political leadership in many countries.

Photo from Reuters: A trader on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange worrying about the economic damage of Omicron and related fall in share prices

This is Australia’s story, especially at the national level. Blame lies squarely on putting the priority on back to business as usual, above the health interests of the community. Nobody wants damage to the economy and the loss of jobs. But failure to set health as the priority and act strongly enough, has already proved to cause greater harm to the economy and jobs. in the absence of a change in approach, the damage will keep on building.

There were always going to be doubters, especially when there is distrust of the political leadership and the motives of pharmaceutical companies. Add to this the loss of jobs and income, social isolation, and the controversy over vaccine mandating. Mishandling of these issues has fed social division.

It would have been much better to ensure that the control over the supply of vaccines was under public control, rather than relying on the pharmaceutical companies. During World War Two, resources were commandeered to ensure supply needs. The same can be applied to today’s emergency. Decisive action like this is far more likely to win the public’s trust.

Even more important, is to ensure that every Australian and household has income enough to get by and job protection, to minimise the suffering caused by the pandemic. Instead of this, Australia got a quick pulling away of income support and the revelation that the JobKeeper scheme had become a vehicle for corporate rorts. Many jobs did not come back. No wonder faith in the government to act in the public interest has received a beating.

Matters have not been helped by branding a part of Australia as the problem. This has fuelled anger, entrenched the divide, and weakened the response to the real threat.

The alternative is to encourage community participation in applying solutions, from national campaigning to neighbourhood level looking after each other, and on it on a much bigger scale than we have seen to date.

Together, these measures would provide far better conditions for confidence and the community unity necessary to defeat the pandemic at minimal cost.

Omicron will be here soon. Australia has an opportunity to do much better. It is still not too late.

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