By Joe Montero
There is no doubt that the breakout of the Covid-19 virus has been manipulated for the purpose of deliberately panicking populations for political ends. Nor is it the single cause of the economic downturn.
It remains a serious problem. Not in the way the media has sometimes represented it. Not surprisingly, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp outlets have been guilty of the most disgraceful conduct. It reached a new low yesterday, when the headline on the front page of the Sunday Herald Sun, called on people to stock up on food staples. It contributed to a new wave of panic buying. This headline had little to do with the substance of the article written by Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton.
Covid-19 is serious because it has the potential to affect a very large number of people, not because it means a death sentence. This is the first thing. Secondly, it threatens to inflict a significant blow to an economy already sick from other causes. It will get worse if it not tackled effectively and soon.
Considerable political risk for those in power is built into this outbreak. The cynical might think that this is the reason why some of them, are finally taking some action.
The starting point is the “flattening the curve” strategy, which has already proved to be the right approach. China gave us this. It should be acknowledged, regardless of political bent. The world owes China a debt of gratitude for showing the way, and there is more we can still learn.
This strategy involves isolating the infection, maintaining distances between people, ensuring that enough resources are put in place, and a t lock down. The other part, the one we must still learn about, is mobilising the population as the key to success.
By combining these two parts, China contained the outbreak in Wuhan, a city of 9 million residents. One practical example of how this warked, was the mobilisation the people needed to build 2 new emergency temporary hospitals in 2 weeks. All together, 16 hospitals of this sort were built across the city. All were closed after discharging the last patients.
This two part strategy has been replicated throughout the country. The tide has been turned, and China is now in the process of getting back to business as usual.
Other countries, including Australia, have approached Covid-19 differently. The focus is on handing out money and a measure of response through the health system. This is backed by top down pressure. People are being prevented from gathering in large numbers, and there is a visible shift to greater reliance on policing decrees that have been passed down. There is almost no openness and consultation.
Everything continues to be driven by faith in the market and minimal government involvement. This approach to flattening the curve, is not likely to work.
It would be much better to do it properly first place. Shut down all major population centres, except for essential services for two weeks. Then see how it’s progressing and respond accordingly: Non essential workplaces, schools, universities and other places where large numbers come together should be closed for the duration: Restrict car and public transport: Stop international flights should: Ration essential needs, to make sure no-one misses out and panic buying is curtailed.
A truly effective response will involve a price tag. There is no way to avoid this. But half measures will ultimately cost even more. a truly effective response will limit the damage to the economy and other aspects of society.
Participation of the population is important. When people are involved, know what is at stake and are a big part of the solution, they become a formidable force, encouraging working together and discouraging selfish behaviour. We see this during bushfires, floods and cyclones. We are beginning to see it here too. The spark must be encouraged and supported to grow. It will make a huge difference.
Teams of professionals and volunteers must be mobilised to put into assuring numerous local health stations, assisting in carrying out widespread testing and linking to quick treatment of those found infected: Teams must be organised to talk to people, encourage them to do their part for the effort, and at the very least, to know what to do for their loved ones and community. Others can help to help in the quarantining of individuals and communities and provide all sorts of needed extra support.
Community action must be backed by resources and new emergency facilities provided by the government. Wage earners must be protected, as are those who are the most vulnerable.
Relying on a top down approach and increasingly backing this with policing, threatens further erosion of democratic rights. We should be very careful about this.
At the same time, circumstances have made some intervention unavoidable, and another nail has been hammered into the coffin of neoliberalism.
Life is teaching that a different approach is necessary, and it is now a little harder to deny this. It can move us a step closer to realising a new way forward.
Covid-19 has also served as a timely warning. It is a taste of what is to come, should humanity continue to allow the planet to warm. We don’t know yet whether there is a specific correlation between Covid-19 and climate change. But we do know that by creating an environment where viruses can thrive, pandemics will become more frequent and immune to regular treatment . We are having a taste of the possible future.
Just consider the personal and social impact, the panic reactions, and the economic damage, caused by present outbreak. Imagine what further and more serious outbreaks will do.
Today, there is an opportunity to use the present experience to prepare us better for the coming challenges.