The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (aka Chairman Dan) after over a year and a half has finally offered to provide Victorians with a road map detailing how the state will open up – too little, too late.
Feelings of despair, despondency and frustration are widespread. After over 220 days of being imprisoned at home, Victorians are at a tipping point and the situation across the nation is equally fraught with danger.
As a result of Covid-19 induced lockdowns, isolation, bankruptcies and the inability to socialise and interact face to face Australians are experiencing a rising tide of depression, self-harm and in extreme cases thoughts about suicide.
While many dealt with last year’s lockdowns by being positive and optimistic after weeks and months of draconian restrictions the novelty has worn off and all that remains is a pall of anxiety and gloom.
The message from politicians and health officials that Covid-19 is a silent, deadly and unstoppable epidemic only adds to the climate of fear. Instead of offering hope premiers play a never-ending game of ego-driven, political one-upmanship where vulnerable citizens count for nothing.
As a result of schools being shut younger Australians are especially at risk with record numbers contacting bodies like Kids Help Line and Beyond Blue. Primary school age children are especially affected as they do not have the conceptual ability and the maturity to understand and cope with what is a stressful and difficult situation.
What’s to be done? In one of his many inauguration speeches, President FD Roosevelt told the American people “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is … fear itself – nameless unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance”.
Instead of Andrews acting unilaterally and basing his decisions on fear it’s time, like Gladys Berejiklian in NSW, for the Victorian to provide a light at the end of the tunnel. Victorians need a statesman willing to trust them and to detail a way ahead that brings hope instead of despondency and defeatism.
Andrews must also stop turning Victoria into a police state where a pregnant mother is arrested in her home, people sitting on park benches are threatened with fines and police use pepper spray and firearms against protestors.
Victoria is not a totalitarian regime like North Korea or Bolivia. We are a Western, liberal democracy that champions the inherent rights of the individual, including freedom from arbitrary arrest, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.
Instead of using intimidation and violence to enforce compliance, it’s time to treat people as responsible citizens who are willing and able to take responsibility for their own actions and to do the right thing.
It’s also time to be flexible and nuanced instead of imposing rigid and draconian restrictions for no reason. Why should those living in Melbourne’s local government areas including Boroondara, Whitehorse and Knox, where there are minimal cases of infection, suffer because of the high infection rates in places like Hume and Wyndham.
Similarly, it’s unfair to lock down regional Victoria when Melbourne is the epicentre of the virus and there are zero cases in places like Warrnambool, Swan Hill and Horsham. Apart from the obvious economic and mental harm, the danger is people no longer respect government because of its ineptitude.
Equally as responsible as Premier Andrews in promoting fear and anxiety are those in the media who daily create the impression the virus is a silent and highly effective killer. Ignored are the statistics proving the overwhelming majority of people dying of Covid-19 are older Australians with pre-existing conditions.
As reported by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare “almost three-quarters (73%) of COVID-19 deaths were among people who had pre-existing chronic conditions” including dementia and chronic heart and respiratory conditions.
While the Victorian government has closed schools it’s also true children and teenagers are not especially at risk of serious illness. The Australian Institute’s report concludes “The median age at death for COVID-19 registered deaths was 87 years, which is higher than that for all causes of death in 2020 (83 years)”.
The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute also suggests children are not in danger when noting “There have been no recorded COVID-19 associated deaths in children under 19 years of age in Australia” and “Children seem to either show no symptoms when infected, or only mild symptoms”.
After over a year and a half of arguing his goal was to have zero infections Premier Andrews has been forced to face reality and finally conceded it’s impossible to eradicate the virus.
The Premier also needs to take responsibility for the over 800 deaths in aged care, say ‘sorry’ to those students now a year behind in their schooling and the many small businesses driven to bankruptcy.
Dr Kevin Donnelly is a Melbourne-based author and commentator.
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