A better response to Covid means a national plan and treating people with respect

By Jim Hayes

The Delta variant of Covid has spread across Australia and is not going away any time soon. This is the new reality we must become used to. In fact, this is another indicator that the age of pandemics is going to be around for the foreseeable future and may even get worse.

Society must adjust. The first step is to deal with this as a national crisis. This hasn’t happened yet. Covid remains a problem of the states and territories, and this is a dangerous course  for government to take.

A national plan is urgently needed. This means that the response is properly coordinated across the nation, with state and territory operating in harmony. It means the Australian government taking the main responsibility and the national mobilisation of resources and people.

Photo from Reuters: Prime Minister Scott Morrison has failed to provide leadership to combat Covid pandemic

Putting the short-term demands of big business before the health of needs of society is the main barrier to a better response from government. The longer-term effect has been more to cost business and  greater damage to the economy.

A perception of unfairness is causing suspicion, distrust, and non-compliance from a section of the community, and boosted when people with money and influence get to avoid the restriction and some businesses are enabled to profiteer from the pandemic.

Make no mistake, we are fighting a war against a  deadly enemy. Fighting a war requires forward planning. It is not good enough to just react after an outbreak. Preventative action is much more effective than a reactive approach.

In practical terms, this is about a national approach to lockdowns, quarantine, and distancing. Further important measures are the provision of more treatment facilities and intensive help on the ground. Help should come to very household, with on the spot testing, the availability of vaccines, and the guarantee of enough income to survive. The three should come together as a package.

Trying shortcuts through the use of  special passports and mandating employers to force vaccinations to allow workers on the job are not going to work. Active support is built by winning the trust of the population. Compulsion Damages trust, and there is already little of this for the politicians.

An important part of a proper national plan is treating people with respect and involving them as part of the solution. Citizens are being treated as the problem. The worst form of this has been increasing militarisation of the response in Sydney. There is also the sidestepping of health experts and others and putting a senior military officer in charge at the national level. Now some politicians are calling for even more militarisation.

Boost this through an ongoing consultation process and the encouragement of local committees of volunteers connected to appropriate health services,  to visit every households to provide for health and other needs, and to encourage participation in the national effort.

Rather than forcing employers to police a work, it would make far more sense to discuss and reach agreement and united action with workers and unions.

The key is to make people feel included, valued, heard and important.

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