One simple question epitomised the lack of ability of the current government in dealing with the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. On the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s ‘Insiders’ program on Sunday morning, David Speers interviewed Health Minister Greg Hunt and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy. When Speers asked (7 minutes in1) if it was still okay to shake people’s hands, Murphy stated: “At the moment, we are strongly suggesting that returned travellers should practise social distancing, so that’s keeping a distance of one and a half metres, if possible from people, not getting close contact with people, not shaking hands, avoiding all public gatherings.” Speers interrupted “But as long as you haven’t stepped off a plane”. Murphy continued: “Yeah, or if you have been in contact with another case.” Speers interrupted again: “Everyone else can shake hands?” Murphy replied: “Yeah, that will change if we get more community transmission. We are now in a phase of promoting broader social distancing, so I think…” Speers interrupted: “So, and just on that, is it okay to go to the movies right now?” Murphy: Well this is an evolving situation David, so… the advice right now is that as a first step we are suggesting that all non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people not proceed…”1
To say that I was flabbergasted at this response by Murphy is an understatement. He is essentially saying you can shake hands until we are certain there is community transmission (i.e. not imported by travellers), and presumably you can go to the cinema until we are certain there is community transmission. Given that about a quarter of cases of COVID-19 in New South Wales have already been shown to be due to transmission in Australia and not related to overseas travel2, it seems that horse has already bolted.
On the panel discussion after this interview, Peter van Onselen expressed a similar sort of concern to mine above. Clearly, Prime Minister Morrison was watching Insiders, because, some hours later, he stated there should be ‘no more handshakes’. This is symptomatic of the problem was face in this country. We have a government that is only ever reactive, seems to be largely unaware of what is happening around it, and is mostly afraid of upsetting the halfwits who believe its drivel (dare I say ‘bogans’?). Despite calling this a pandemic before the World Health Organisation did so, they seem to be incapable of getting out a consistent message as to how people should avoid the risk of coming down with COVID-19. I’d have thought that the precautionary principle would apply, but given that the government have not even considered that with regard to the even greater threat of climate change, or the bushfires for that matter, it is not really surprising.
The Australian government says it is ahead of the world in the response to COVID-19, but this is just another lie. Singapore and Hong Kong were the most aggressive in their response to the pandemic and for Singapore, it took about 13 days to go from 100 cases to 200 cases, while Hong Kong has taken 11 days to go from 100 to 1503. Australia has taken 5 days to go from 100 cases to 3002. We are on an exponential trajectory which sees something like a doubling of the number of cases every 4 or 5 days2. When it comes to crises, Morrison is not so much concerned with doing what is best for Australians but only spinning it to his political advantage. People will die because of that.